In response to the serious health problems facing honey bees, a Tech-Transfer Team was initiated to work with beekeepers in Northern California. Three trained crop protection agents (the Bee Team) are now established in Butte County working as an extension program of the University of California Cooperative Extension. The Team is part of a nation-wide effort to help the honey bee: the Bee Informed Partnership (beeinformed.org).

This project is a newly funded nationwide initiative supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The project is designed to monitor and improve honey bee colony strength by supporting work to identify colonies that have stronger hygienic behaviors possibly helping to alleviate pest and disease problems and reduce colony deaths. Local Bee Team members are Rob Snyder, Michael Andree, and Katie Lee.

California bee breeding is centered in the counties of Butte, Glenn, Tehama Shasta, Colusa, Yuba, Sutter, Yolo, and Solano. Honey bees overwinter well in California’s favorable climate and beekeepers can build up hives in early spring when almonds bloom. The Team’s focus is interaction with approximately 16 queen breeders that produce and ship queen bees, thus providing genetic material for beekeepers nationwide. The Sacramento Valley is responsible for approximately one-third to one-half of the nation’s bee industry.

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) will use an epidemiological approach to identify common beekeeping management practices and develop best practices on a regional level. The goal according to the BIP project leader Dennis vanEngelsdorp is introduction of best management practices that will reduce national losses in honey bee populations. We hope to reduce honey bee mortality, increase beekeeper profitability and enhance adoption of sustainable management systems in beekeeping. By surveying beekeepers management practices as well as their colonies' overwintering success, we can use epidemiological methods to inform beekeepers about which practices work and which do not.

The Team assists the queen producers with pest monitoring and testing potential breeder colonies for resistance to disease and parasitic mites. Since its start about a year ago, the Team has taken over 4,000 samples to determine levels of the gut fungus Nosema and the Varroa parasitic mite, and has tested 600 colonies for the hygienic behavioral trait that correlates with disease resistance. Each sampled colony is assessed for characteristics associated with health and tagged to allow multiple samplings to provide colony history over time.

The team began to track pathogen loads in potential breeder stock in September 2011. Over 1,100 hives were examined and samples have been taken and analyzed. The queen breeders were provided with diagnostic reports for Varroa and Nosema loads within two weeks of sampling.

Further pathogen load sampling will be conducted in January/February 2012 to allow these beekeepers to make breeding decisions prior to beginning the 2012 season. Initial economic feedback is forthcoming as to whether certain products or protocols used in the health management of colonies provide a net benefit or loss per colony.

These economic take home messages will be included in results released in early 2012.