Happy New Year to all. It is a tremendous honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to serve our great community. I have so much gratitude toward our previous leadership and the excellent work they have done serving our needs and the needs of our bees. Thank you for all of your tireless efforts, great leadership, and service. You are all truly inspirational! I look forward carrying on these efforts and traditions. I hope that together we will continue to find find ways to improve the plights of beekeepers and bees.
As highlighted in Harry’s recent Message from the President, we clearly face some very dire challenges, and yet I remain optimistic that together with our many stakeholders we can rise to the occasion. At heart, I truly am an optimist, as one would need to be in order to attempt to make a living shepherding such a fragile flock as bees with so many variables that remain out of our control. The old aphorism rings true that crisis equals opportunity, especially in our current situation. Also, the saying “it takes a village” comes to mind; however, in our particular circumstance, I feel that it will take much more than a village and more like a paradigm shift in how we think about mites, viruses, nutrition, and the environment we operate in.
There are some great opportunities on the horizon that have the possibility to be transformative for our trade. One such opportunity is the work being done on viruses. If we can lower viral loads in our colonies, it will surely reduce the pathogenicity of Varroa. This type of impressive research will help us to continue to develop a clearer understanding of mite biology. Sooner or later we will find a crack in these little red menace’s armor that will substantially advance our colony management. Also, as we heard from Danielle Downey at the conference, there is some very exciting work being done on breeding more mite-tolerant bees. These examples illustrate how it is more imperative than ever given our current situation that we continue to support and find new ways to support all the essential bee research and extension outreach going on. Will these solutions come in time? One cannot say for sure, but we must continue to enlist every stakeholder possible for our cause. This includes consumers, producers, and the public at large, because, at the end of the day, if one eats food, one is a stakeholder and a participant in agriculture and therefore vested in bees.
Another movement that I am very optimistic about is agrivoltaics. Simply put, this is the dual use of utility-scale solar energy production sites for other simultaneous agricultural production. This has the potential to have a profound impact for us, particularly when utility-scale solar sites are intensively planted for pollinator habitat. The project lifespan of a utility-scale solar installation is about 35 years. Consider the potential impact of large tracts of land dedicated to pollinator habitat and clean energy for generations. This could offset a significant portion of the continuous habitat loss that we are witnessing, and provide long-term opportunities for quality pollinator forage.
Over the last 22 years, I have observed many of my best bee yards decline in productivity as we continue to lose ground to development and heavily sprayed monocultures. Further, as beekeepers, on most farms we have grown accustomed to getting stuck with the leftovers—the fence lines, the ditches, meager hedgerows, or whatever that is not getting sprayed with Roundup or Dicamba. The opportunity to create vast tracts of pollinator habitat on reasonably prime ground through well-designed agrivoltaics is very exciting. The next generation of beekeepers will surely need access to good forage and clean energy even more than we currently do. Here is an article highlighting some of the solar dual use efforts around the county: https://www.anl.gov/article/can-solar-energy-save-the-bees.
In closing, we must be realistic and keep our eyes wide open to the myriad of challenges facing pollinators. As Harry’s last Message from the President made abundantly clear, we face some monumental hurdles. Many pollinators are disappearing, and the economics of commercial beekeeping are very challenging in the face of substantial annual colony losses.
As C.C. Miller said over 100 years ago:
“I should say that beekeeping is a good business to let alone, for the same amount of brains and energy that will make you a living at beekeeping will make more than a living at almost any other business.”
The risk-to-reward equation is often out of balance in beekeeping in strict traditional economic terms. Perhaps for this to change, the price of bees and pollination may need to go up and a higher value may need to be placed on healthy forage sites. Brute-force economics will always prevail; however, many beekeepers are also motivated by the love of what we do. Clearly it is this love that we all share and keeps us going when things get tough.
We are fighting the good fight, and united together we can prevail. Like a colony of bees, little individual efforts aggregate into large meaningful results. Our industry has had, and always will have, its ups and downs; however, by working together through these tribulations, we will persist, and hopefully thrive.
Once again I thank you privilege and the honor to serve a great cause with such a wonderful community. May your mite counts be low, your hives be heavy, and your 2019 prosperous.