And if varroa was not bad enough, Rogers issued a stern warning about a new honey bee pest threat – Tropilaelaps clareae - currently found in Asia but not in the U.S. He said T. clareae  is more destructive to bees than the varroa mite.

“It would be a catastrophe if the Tropilaelaps mite were introduced into the U.S.”

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Rick Smith of Yuma is a fifth-generation commercial beekeeper who farms about 500 acres of cotton, wheat, and Sudangrass along the Colorado River. Smith is the principle owner of James R. Smith Beekeeping & Farming.

Smith discussed how the apiculture industry has evolved over the years – from honey as the principal income producer for beekeepers - to pollination services as today’s breadwinner for apiculture.

Smith said, “My grandpa did not see the day when honey production would not support the industry. He never saw the day when the bee industry would be dependent on pollination rental as their primary source of income.”

The elder Smith predicted though that one day honey bees would be in short supply and the time is now.

Smith shared this factoid from the United Nations – the honey bee is the third most important food production animal in the world. The first is cattle followed by pigs – then bees. The chicken ranks fourth.

Pesticides and bees

Smith delved into the timely and sensitive issue of pesticide use around bees. Careful and timely pesticide applications are critical for crop protection, he says. Some pesticides, including Imidacloprid, are often blamed for bee death.

“The beekeeping industry understands that pesticide use is necessary. Pesticides pose a great risk to pollinators when bloom is present in the field.”

Smith offers an “easy solution” to reduce the impact of pesticides on bees. Apply the products when bees are not in the field and choose products with a shorter residual toxicity period. During warmer temperatures, bee flight starts well before sunrise and continue until dark.

“There is no shortcut for scouting to determine if bees are present in the field.”

Smith discussed the importance of pollen to bee health and survival – pollen from crops and nearby areas.

“Today, pollen is the most critical element for bee health and survival since it is no longer abundant. This is a nationwide issue - not just in Arizona or California,” the beekeeper said.

Besides traditional crop blooms, bees also gain pollen from weeds and grasses.

“Blooming weeds are a target for bees craving diverse pollen sources,” Smith said. “Bermudagrass and Sudangrass pollen collected very early in the morning can be a lifesaver when other pollen sources are in short supply.”