Greetings, fellow beekeepers.
I hope this message finds you and your bees well and on a great nectar and pollen flow. The old trope “location, location, location” could not be more true for beekeepers and honey bee colonies. A well-sited apiary can make a huge difference in the success of a colony and the success of an operation.
Over the last 22 years, I have definitely witnessed the quality of some of our bee yards deteriorate due to development, becoming surrounded by intensively managed monocultures. Here in Southern Oregon, we are slowly, but surely, becoming surrounded by grapes and hemp fields to name just a few. Please don’t get me wrong; I love wine, and hemp is destined to become a valuable agricultural commodity. However, this trend often causes me to ponder, what will the bee yards look like 30 years from now? Will there be enough quality forage to support a healthy honey bee diet and decent honey production in intensively farmed areas?
As we know from the work done at the OSU Honey Bee Lab, a diverse pollen diet definitely promotes healthier bees; therefore, one of the things I like to look for in a bee yard is the availability of diverse forage species that will not be heavily sprayed. Will there be enough sites like this to support the pollinators we will require to feed the world 30 years from now, let alone support a thriving apiculture industry? There are many things we can do to help ensure the habitat we and that our pollinators need will be around, especially if we start now and plan well.
One large step in the right direction would be to dedicate one percent of our prime agricultural lands to pollinators. At first blush this may seem like a tall order, but there is a way this could be accomplished and well financed. The way this could happen is through the concept I like to call apivoltaics.
What is apivoltaics you may ask? Simply put, it is a branch of the science known as agrivoltaics, but specifically tailored to managing utility-scale solar sites for pollinator habitat and farming honey bees. The opportunity here is that, as our demand for energy increases, we will increasingly rely on photovoltaics to produce cheap, clean, local renewable energy, and the space in which this pollinator habitat can and should occur is on utility-scale solar fields on farmland.
According to Dr. Chad Higgins’s research at OSU (today.oregonstate.edu/news/solar-arrays-could-be-used-resources-plant-productivity-study-shows), we can produce all the energy we need on as little as one percent of existing farmland, and, as the research indicates, the most efficient production of electricity is in the agricultural belt due to topography and temperatures. There is potentially a huge up side here for honey bees and farmers. Leases on the land by solar companies can supplement farm income, and sites will be guaranteed to remain in legal farm use three or four decades at time.
Most importantly, future farm use on these sites will not be impaired because the solar arrays are designed from the ground up to be removable and recyclable. Requiring utility-scale solar to maintain these sites in pollinator habitat as a condition of approval helps us reach the important goals of preserving farmland, keeping farmland in legal farm use, and ensuring large tracts of great forage for generations of beekeepers to come.
This strategy has been deployed in at least four sites statewide, and so far the results are pretty amazing in terms of colony productivity. However, there are many regulatory hurdles pending that seek to limit solar on prime farmland and all class I and II soils. One such hurdle is being proposed by the Land Conservation and Development Commission to limit all solar to 12 acres or less on class I and II soils. We will never reach one percent for bees at this rate, and our pollinators would really benefit from at least that much farmland dedicated to quality forage.
Very rarely, if ever, are there opportunities for our bees to have prime ground devoted to farming them. If you are interested, I would encourage you to attend the LCDC hearing in Salem on May 23 at 9:00 am at 635 Capitol Street in Salem. Please check out Dr. Higgins’s research (journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0203256) and come support the adoption of rules that will allow some prime farmland dedicated to bees and help secure our food and energy future.
Lastly, while I am making requests, I would also like to encourage anyone with more than five colonies to register their apiary. The modest fee of 50 cents a colony helps fund research at the OSU Honey Bee Lab, which has been an amazing asset for our community and industry. This funding will help the bee lab to continue be an asset and help us meet current and future challenges to our honey bees.
Thank you for your time and consideration.