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September 2016

Bee Care

Promoting pollinator health

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For many years, Bayer has been committed to environmental stewardship and sustainable agricultural practices, and that includes protecting pollinators. Here, we outline the Bayer Bee Care Program, investigate the factors impacting on bee health, look at the successful work of the North American Bayer Bee Care Center, and show how Bayer is contributing to a better understanding of bee health and pollination in South America.
In Brief:
  • Bayer's global commitment to protecting pollinators as a component of sustainable agriculture
  • ‘Feed a Bee’ campaign hugely successful in U.S.
  • Bee health studies on-going in South America
Pollinator health is a shared responsibility that must be collectively tackled. The Bayer Bee Care Program is an industry-unique platform to promote pollinator health and safety in agriculture, support joint research on and solutions for pollinator health, and foster dialog among all those with an interest in the health and welfare of pollinators. In this, Bayer is focusing on three areas that are felt to make a difference and to which it can genuinely contribute with its expertise, knowledge and experience by looking for locally tailored solutions:
  • ‘Feed a Bee’: Foraging, nutrition and pollinator biodiversity
  • ‘Healthy Hives’: Research and solutions to tackle pests (e.g., Varroa mite) and pathogens (e.g., Nosema) and to improve hive management
  • Sustainable agriculture: Responsible use of crop protection products, improved crop pollination, and better communication between beekeepers and farmers
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Bayer Bee Care Center in Monheim, Germany

The Program is coordinated from the global Bayer Bee Care Center (BBCC) in Monheim, Germany, where a team of technical experts, communication specialists and experienced beekeepers bring together farmers, research scientists, beekeepers, educational professionals and other stakeholders to work on concrete pollinator health projects on an increasingly worldwide scale. “Promoting pollinator health is a global task,” says Coralie van Breukelen-Groeneveld, who heads the BBCC. “Bayer is a responsible partner for pollinator health and we firmly believe that the company is making a valuable contribution through our ‘Feed a Bee’ and ‘Healthy Hives’ initiatives and by encouraging sustainable agriculture.” Bayer's commitment to pollinator health will be further underlined when a new apiary with an exhibition room, demonstration laboratory and bee garden opens in Monheim in May 2016. A second BBCC was opened in North Carolina, USA, in April 2014 to focus on and serve North America. In 2015, Bayer's Bee Care Program was extended to South America with bee health projects in Chile, Colombia, Peru and Brazil. The increasingly global reach of the Bee Care Program reflects Bayer's worldwide engagement. “Though pollinator health impacts globally, there are regional differences,” Coralie says. “And that's why we have local projects where local stakeholders can contribute.”

Smartphones connect beekeepers and farmers

When beehives are sited near fields of crops, it is important to coordinate pesticide-spraying schedules to minimize any potential exposure of bees. This is best achieved by enabling the farmers and beekeepers to communicate with each other, and here smartphones can be a big help. In Australia a BeeConnected app enables direct collaboration between beekeepers, farmers and spray contractors to facilitate best-practice pollinator protection. In Canada the DriftWatch app tells a beekeeper if it is safe to place his hives next to a field of crops. Similar apps have also been introduced in some U.S. states.

Caring for bees in the U.S.

Bayer's North American Bee Care Center in North Carolina houses a full laboratory and teaching apiary, honey extraction and workshop space, interactive learning center, meeting, training and presentation facilities for beekeepers, farmers and educators, and office space for graduate students. It also has its own honey bee colonies for teaching, demonstration and research purposes.
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Bayer's North American Bee Care Center in North Carolina has its own honey bee colonies.

2015 was a particularly busy year, as Dr. Becky Langer-Curry, Project Manager Bee Health NA, points out: “We are often asked what individuals can do to help honey bees and this prompted us to launch the ‘Feed a Bee’ initiative in March 2015.” Its goal was to engage the American public to plant 50 million bee-attractive flowers within a year and thus provide additional forage for these pollinators. “The campaign exceeded all expectations,” Becky adds. “By year-end some 65 million flowers had been planted by more than 250,000 individuals and, in addition, 75 industrial partners had created more than 1,300 ac of foraging land for pollinators.”

Multiple factors affect bee health

Although society tends to perceive the bee health issue as one-dimensional, most bee scientists see multiple stress factors as impacting the health of bees and are clearly focused on the interaction of parasites, diseases, nutritional deficiencies, beekeeping practices, lack of genetic diversity, queen failure, weather influences, and crop protection and veterinary medical products. Although there is no consensus among bee scientists about the relative importance of these factors, the parasitic Varroa mite and associated viruses are regarded as the major threat in those countries where the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) rules, such as in Europe and North America. A survey published by Chauzat et al. in 2013 on the main causes of honey bee colony mortality reported by EU beekeepers and bee health reference labs also revealed diseases and the Varroa mite as the top two culprits.

Varroacidal research

A second initiative launched by the North American Bee Care Center in 2015, ‘Healthy Hives 2020’, has brought together leading bee health experts from multiple sectors to identify measurable and develop tangible solutions to improve hive health within five years. Research plays a key role in this initiative and Bayer is making a key contribution. A research team led by Bee Health Research Manager Dick Rogers is working to evaluate the susceptibility of Varroa mites to currently registered varroacides. Their research involves developing resistance management strategies and tools, identifying the molecular basis for the formation of miticide resistance, and evaluating miticides by means of an efficacy bioassay involving five miticidal products and six U.S. states.
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Bee health monitoring study in Chile: working to optimize pollination and agricultural yields

Bee studies in South America

In 2013 Bayer's Bee Care Program was extended to South America. Since 2015, Bayer has been collaborating with the Fraunhofer Chile Research Foundation in a large-scale study in Central Chile to investigate the influence of factors such as apiary management, pests and pesticides on bee health. Chilean farmers grow a wide variety of crops that are dependent on pollination, e.g., almonds and avocados. By analyzing bee health, researchers can discover how this relates to crop pollination, help farmers to optimize pollination, and educate beekeepers in good hive management practices. Since knowledge gaps on pollination may also exist in Colombia, researchers from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia are investigating which bee species visit bean crops in a study funded by Bayer. In Brazil, Claudia Quaglierini, an experienced agronomist who also joined the Bee Care Center team in 2013, is working to bring together the many stakeholders from a very diverse agricultural sector to participate in the discussion on pollinator health. Here, too, Bayer is promoting scientific studies on bee nutrition, an online pollen catalog and pollination in melon and canola crops.

For more information on Bayer's Bee Care Program see beecare.bayer.com.

Fluency agent reduces dust in planting seed

The use of talc, graphite or talc-and-graphite lubricants in vacuum planters is standard practice when planting seed, as they reduce seed-to-seed friction and improve planting uniformity. But the amount of insecticidal dust abraded from the seed coating, which may be released from the planter exhaust, is seen as a possible exposure factor for bees. These concerns led Bayer to look for an alternative that would reduce dust emissions from vacuum planters. The outcome of this research is Fluency Agent, a polyethylene wax lubricant suitable for all makes and types of planters. This non-abrasive white powder brings great results – 90 % total dust and 65 % active ingredient reduction (vs. talc) in lab tests, and no differences in plantability or planting accuracy in field tests – and has been readily taken up in Canada and the northern states of the U.S.
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