Wis­con­sin bee­keep­ers see high bee losses

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion -

ome Wis­con­sin bee­keep­ers re­ported high losses of bees over the win­ter be­cause of a par­a­site that in­fests hives and kills de­vel­op­ing bees.

Kent Pe­gorsch, pres­i­dent of the Wis­con­sin Honey Pro­duc­ers Association, says bee­keep­ers had dif­fi­culty con­trol­ling var­roa mites in the last year.

Bee­keep­ers have been los­ing about half of their hives over the win­ter for the last five to 10 years, said Liz Meils, the api­arist for the state Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Trade and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion.

“It’s def­i­nitely sig­nif­i­cant and not re­ally sus­tain­able,” Meils said. “The gen­eral con­sen­sus among bee­keep­ers is that ac­cept­able win­ter losses should be around 12 per­cent, up to 20 per­cent.”

Pro­duc­ers can try to pre­vent losses by hav­ing their hives in­spected and treated for mites, Meils said. The state has two in­spec­tors who can in­spect hives and give treat­ment ad­vice, she said.

But some bee­keep­ers are re­luc­tant to treat for pests, Pe­gorsch said.

“Some of them would like to be treat­ment-free,” he said. “But what hap­pens is they ac­tu­ally cause their hives to ‘crash’ from too many var­roa mites in the hive. The hive crashes, the bees die — and as that colony is crash­ing, the bees fly off and then they in­habit other colonies nearby, trans­fer­ring those var­roa mites.” Bee­keep­ers can re­cover from win­ter losses by bring­ing in new bees or split­ting ex­ist­ing hives, Meils

said. But re­pop­u­lat­ing hives each spring can be a chal­lenge and a fi­nan­cial bur­den, Pe­gorsch said.

The depart­ment is work­ing to help pro­duc­ers who wish to keep their bees nat­u­ral, Meils said.

“Bee­keep­ing has be­come a lot more hands-on, and treat­ment-free is not re­ally fea­si­ble any­more,” she said. “But there are a lot of nat­u­ral and or­ganic op­tions that are avail­able to help the bees sur­vive these mites.”


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