Healthy bees, healthy agriculture: Striking a balance

Reed Johnson studies bee colonies at OARDC to learn more about factors affecting bee health. Healthy bees are crucial for both agricultural production and the environment.

Reed Johnson studies bee colonies at OARDC to learn more about factors affecting bee health. Healthy bees are crucial
for both agricultural production and the environment.

Bees are crucial to agriculture and food security. They pollinate about one-third of the crops we eat, valued at more than $14 billion annually in the U.S.

However, this valuable resource is at risk. During the 2013–2014 winter alone, Ohio beekeepers lost 50–80 percent of their honeybees. Bees are dying in large numbers due to many reasons, including diseases, insect pests, loss of habitat and agricultural chemicals.

“Most corn seeds planted today are coated with insecticides, and when they are chipped off in the planter, the dust lands on nearby flowers,” said entomologist Reed Johnson. “Bees then carry the tainted pollen back to their hives, where young members of the colony become exposed to it.”

Johnson is studying the unintended consequences of these insecticides as well as strategies to protect bees. For example, he has tested a lubricant that is applied to the seed to reduce dust, which shows promise in field trials.

Essentials

  • The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Ohio State University Extension work together with the beekeeping industry and others to deliver the following programs, which promote healthy bees and environments that boost bee numbers.
  • A monthly webinar series is attended by some 120 beekeepers from Ohio, other states and several countries. It focuses on ways to monitor for health issues and combat pests that attack bees. The sessions are archived online and reach many more beekeepers.
  • Monthly face-to-face educational programs with beekeeper associations throughout Ohio deal with topics such as integrated pest management and creating forage habitats for bees.
  • A statewide network of 28 research and demonstration gardens were planted in 2014 at schools, parks, arboreta and OSU Extension offices. The gardens evaluate which combinations of plants attract bees most, so that recommendations can be made to help enhance their habitats.

“Ohio State University research is required to provide information to the Ohio agriculture community, which will allow collaboration between beekeepers and farmers to help each other keep honeybees healthy and safe, and provide the pollination needed to keep crop production sustainable and profitable,” said Dwight Wells, regional director of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association.

More: u.osu.edu/beelab

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