(Dr. Eric Mussen stepped down June 27, 2014 as University of California Extension apiculturist after 38 years working with bees, beekeepers, crop industries, and others who rely heavily on bees.
The following is an excerpt from Mussen’s final newsletter which is shared with his permission. Western Farm Press thanks Mussen for sharing his vast knowledge of apiculture with Farm Press readers in print and digital.)
“The first thing that I wish to do in this last ‘official’ newsletter of my salaried career at UC Davis is to thank the many people who have made the past 38 years so enjoyable.
I will first praise the beekeepers of California and across the nation. This is one of the most heterogeneous groups of people one would ever encounter. Beekeepers from nearly every walk of life have a few colonies that they keep for fun.
Some beekeepers maintain a moderate number of colonies from which they hope to realize a little income. Then there are the beekeepers whose livelihoods depend on the health and productivity of their colonies to feed, house, clothe, and educate their families.
All these individuals have their own ideas about how to ‘keep bees’ and most of them are more than willing to share that information with me. Discussions with those individuals have kept me on my toes, and I learned something new every time I met with them.
I have found beekeepers to be very generous with their time, their bees for experimental purposes, and their pocketbooks.
Another group of associates for whom I have a great deal of respect are the bee researchers across the country. That is a global bee, because the non-Apis researchers have opened my eyes to many aspects of bee behavior and lifestyles that are so unique.
The bee researchers, on the cutting edge of honey bee knowledge, were willing to share their latest findings with me knowing that their findings were safely cloistered until after publication. It was my job to take as many of those scientific findings as possible and apply the information to productive beekeeping.
With colleagues, I was involved in some of that research and determined the impact of aerial spraying for medfly on suburban beekeeping colonies with Dr. Norman Gary; effects of various fungicides on development of immature bees in laboratory culture with Dr. Christine Peng and her students; the selection of tylosin as the replacement anti-biotic for American foulbrood control with Dr. Terry Leighton at UC Berkeley and Dr. Christine Peng; and the effects (none) of exposure of adult honey bees to the pheromone used to reduce reproduction of the light brown apple moth for a California Department of Food and Agriculture study with Susan Monheit, Dr. Mike Johnson and some bee biology assistants.
I also conducted a few unpublished experiments that took a heavy toll on beekeepers’ bees, but we had discussed that possibility ahead of time.
UCCE farm advisors
My associates at the field level, who best know what is going on in their areas of expertise, are the county (UC Cooperative Extension) farm advisors. They try to examine every detail of the factors that impact the crops or animals for which they have responsibility. It is truly amazing how deep that knowledge goes.
But, there is a limit to how much information a mind can hold. Thus, most farm advisors were willing to ask me about pollination and colony health specifics, but otherwise turned the bee questions over to me.
This was an excellent relationship and I tried to respond favorably, and quickly, to requests for information and for participation in grower meetings where honey bee questions were likely to be considered.
I spent more time with the almond farm advisors than the many others, but I did travel around the state trying to help the others when I could.
I’ve enjoyed good relationships with my departmental peers throughout my career. Each member had tidbits of information that I required from time to time, and they made time available to patiently explain what I desired to know.
Those peers conducted the first step in my evaluation processes and were very supportive over time, for which I am truly thankful.
As time went on, I became involved in a number of regulatory issues with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the currently named California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
As you might anticipate, many beekeepers had strong emotional ties to some of the decisions that have been made over the past. Direct discussions between beekeepers and regulators at times became heated.
In those cases, both sides preferred to have me act as intermediary, knowing that I would emphasize the concerns of the beekeepers but not aggravate agency personnel. Most times things settled down relatively well.
Successor starts in September
The time has come to pass the baton. My next article introduces Dr. Elina Lastro Niño, who will come to the UC Davis campus in September to begin her career as Extension Apiculturist.
Since Elina arrives with just a bit more knowledge of California beekeeping than I had (little) when I arrived, I intend to hang around awhile to help Elina become acquainted with people and agencies that she likely will be dealing with in the future.
Elina is a very accomplished scientist and she has that type of personality that you appreciate having in your presence. I know that you will really like her.”