Organic beekeeping

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Organic beekeeping

Postby oacc_admin » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:46 am

The following conversation was held via e-mail between Michael Rzeszutek of Operation Bee (http://www.operationbee.com) and the OACC. The discussion is posted here with the permission of both parties. We invite you to follow the conversation and welcome you to post additional information or questions that you may have on the subject of organic apiculture and the role of organic agriculture in maintaining pollinator populations.

Hello,

My name is Michael Rzeszutek and I am founder of the non-profit organization, Operation Bee (http://www.operationbee.com). The organization aims to raise awareness of the disappearance of bees and its significance in terms of our food supply. We are in the process of writing our mission statement and it would mean so much to us if you can help us answer a question.

Clearly organic agriculture is THE solution to the disappearance of bees. However, with organic agriculture, is there a problem with the Varroa destructor? Large quantities of pesticides are used to get rid of the mites, so we were really wondering what organic farmers/beekeepers do to deal with Varroa (and is this solution more effective?).

Your answer is extremely valuable to us as your input will be what we will especially focus on for the mandate of our organization.

Thanks so much and have a great day!

Michael Rzeszutek
Founder, Operation Bee
Web: http://www.operationbee.com
E-Mail: [url]info@operationbee.com[/url]
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/operationbee
YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/operationbeevideos
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Re: Organic beekeeping

Postby oacc_admin » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:47 am

The following conversation was held via e-mail between Michael Rzeszutek of Operation Bee (http://www.operationbee.com) and the OACC (http://www.oacc.info). The discussion is posted here with the permission of both parties. We invite you to follow the conversation and welcome you to post additional information or questions that you may have on the subject of organic apiculture and the role of organic agriculture in maintaining pollinator populations.

Dear Michael,

I will do my best to answer your questions with the information that I have. I hope that this information will be of use to you and Operation Bee.

Organic apiculture in Canada is governed by the Canadian Organic Standards, which outlines the principles and practices of organic management. The standard, along with the accompanying Permitted Substances List, dictates what practices and substances can be used in organic production in Canada. As defined in the Standard, "Organic production is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people. The principal goal of organic production is to develop enterprises that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment". Thus, organic agriculture strives to manage systems with minimal intervention and healthy practices that protect the environment and maintain diversity, and does not allow the use of synthetic substances, such as pesticides.

The Standard (see http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ongc-cgsb/internet/bio-org/documents/032-0310-2008-eng.pdf) has a section dedicated to organic apiculture (Section 7.1) outlining foraging, hive management, feeding and pest/disease management practices and strategies for organic production. Meanwhile, the Permitted Substances List (see Section 5.3, http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ongc-cgsb/internet/bio-org/documents/032-0310-2008-eng.pdf) outlines substances that are permitted for use in organic production - if a substance does not appear on the list, its use is not permitted. Thorough record keeping and annual site inspections, overseen by a Certifying Body, ensure that these principles and practices are being followed and that only permitted substances are employed.

Now that you have an overview of how organic beekeeping is governed, we can address how the Varroa mite is managed in an organic system free of the synthetic chemicals often relied upon to control this pest in conventionally managed hives.

The first, and overarching, management strategy used by organic producers of all sorts is prevention. The aim is to reduce the incidence of pests and diseases, since organic producers do not have the extensive chemical toolbox available to them to control pests once an infestation has occurred. In the case of beekeeping, this can be accomplished through a number of means that are outlined in the Canadian Organic Standard: selecting or breeding for resistant queens and colonies that are less vulnerable to infection, reducing bee stress by ensuring that hives are placed in areas where proper and adequate food is available, and by ensuring hives are at the proper density, disinfecting tools and equipment, and regularly inspecting for pests and diseases. The use of screened bottoms on hives can allow adequate ventilation and can also cause any shed mites to drop from the hive.

If an infestation of Varroa mites should occur in spite of the beekeepers best preventative strategies, there are tools available to the organic producer. Given that routine hive inspections should be occurring, the infection should be detected quickly. First, the infested hive is to be isolated from other hives to reduce the spread of the pest. To address the mite infestation, the use of botanical compounds, formic acid and oxalic acid is allowed, however there may be some restrictive measures that must also be followed (see the Permitted Substances List). The destruction of male brood is also allowed when an infestation of mites occurs. And if these measures fail to bring the infestation under control, all efforts must be made to save the hive, including the removal of the hive from organic production.

While I cannot speak to the effectiveness of these strategies, as I have had limited interaction with organic beekeepers to date, there are a number of successful organic apiaries in Canada, suggesting that there are ways to raise bees organically and successfully in spite of this widespread and destructive pest. May I suggest that you could perhaps contact a few of these operations to allow you to get a better grasp on the success of these organic management strategies for limiting/managing Varroa mites?

Thank you for contacting the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada with these questions, I hope that the information outlined above has been helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any additional questions or comments, and best wishes for Operation Bee.

Warm regards,
Joanna MacKenzie, M.Sc., P.Ag.
Website Coordinator
Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada
Nova Scotia Agricultural College
Truro, N.S. B2N 5E3
Phone: (902) 896-2249
Fax: (902) 896-7095
E-mail: [url]jmackenzie@nsac.ca[/url]
OACC website: http://www.oacc.info
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Re: Organic beekeeping

Postby oacc_admin » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:49 am

The following conversation was held via e-mail between Michael Rzeszutek of Operation Bee (http://www.operationbee.com) and the OACC (http://www.oacc.info). The discussion is posted here with the permission of both parties. We invite you to follow the conversation and welcome you to post additional information or questions that you may have on the subject of organic apiculture and the role of organic agriculture in maintaining pollinator populations.

Dear Joanna,

Thank you so much for getting back to me with so much information! It was extremely helpful, a lot of this I did not know! On the note of organic beekeeping operations, do you know a few that have been successful with organic management strategies for limiting/managing Varroa mites? Additionally, I have always had the tendency to confuse organic agriculture and organic apiculture. It is interesting to note that systemic pesticides in agriculture are very harmful to bees…and we do believe that organic is the way. Do you, however, see any challenges that are involved with organic agriculture? As well, with organic apiculture, are there any challenges for beekeepers (essentially, is it worth it to really push organic beekeeping?)

Thanks so much,
Michael
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Re: Organic beekeeping

Postby oacc_admin » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:50 am

The following conversation was held via e-mail between Michael Rzeszutek of Operation Bee (http://www.operationbee.com) and the OACC (http://www.oacc.info). The discussion is posted here with the permission of both parties. We invite you to follow the conversation and welcome you to post additional information or questions that you may have on the subject of organic apiculture and the role of organic agriculture in maintaining pollinator populations.

Michael,

I am so glad to hear that the information was helpful for you!

I do not know of any organic beekeeping operations off the top of my head. I can suggest that you either do a google search for Canadian organic beekeepers/honey or perhaps try contacting a few certification bodies, who may be able to put you in contact with some organic bee operations. You can find a list of certification bodies on the OACC website at http://www.oacc.info/Links/cert_bodies.asp. Sorry that I cannot provide you with direct contact information, but hopefully one of these routes will work for you.

Just to clarify, organic apiculture is a subcategory of organic agriculture, they aren't necessarily different things. As far as general organic agriculture and the effects on bees, there are certainly some benefits. Organic agriculture tends to encourage and promote biodiversity, providing a wealth of pollen and nectar from many different food sources for bees and also promoting native pollinators. And organic agriculture does not allow the use of synthetic pesticides, which evidence seems to be suggesting can be detrimental to bee populations. But, please do note that some organic operations do employ natural pesticides that can still be harmful to bees, but these are employed only after all other prevention and management techniques have been attempted.

Now, for challenges for organic beekeepers. In addition to the pest and disease management issues that were addressed in the previous e-mail, there are other obstacles faced. For example, there is a condition in the standard that can be quite limiting to those wanting to practice organic apiculture: in order to be considered organic, a 3-km radius around the apiary must to be populated with either organically managed land or lands that were not receiving any prohibited substances (i.e. no pesticides, no synthetic fertilizers, no sewage sludge and no GM plants). Given the density of farming in some areas, and the prevalence of conventional farms, this can be a difficult condition to meet for some. Organic beekeepers must also attempt to source organically raised replacement bees, must supply organic honey or sugars when feeding a hive, and must use organic beeswax for comb foundations, which may at times be difficult to source. Should you contact any organic beekeeping operations in Canada, I am sure that they would be able to give you further insight into the challenges that they face.

There are also challenges faced by any organic producer, be they producing field crops, fruits, bees or livestock. Organic production of any type requires detailed record keeping, a task that can be daunting and challenging for some, but that ensures that organic management practices are maintained. Generally, once a producer becomes accustomed to the paper work, these records come to be a valuable resource. There is also a cost to organic production - annual certification fees must be paid to a certification body to maintain organic certification, which can be prohibitive to some smaller producers no matter what type of production. Organic production is also generally more labour-intensive, demanding more time and/or more employees.

Organic agriculture is very much a knowledge-based way to farm. While conventional producers reach into their chemical toolbox whenever a problem arises, organic producers must learn ways that problems can be minimized and experiment with alternative management practices. This steep learning curve can be a challenge to those first starting out in organic, and can remain a challenge for even veteran organic farmers! Farmers must also know the organic standard and ensure that they are working within it at all times.

There are numerous other challenges in organic agriculture, many dependent on the type of production. While organic beekeepers have their challenges, organic fruit producers must find ways to cope with diseases and insect pest, organic cereal producers practice crop rotation and tillage to cope with weeds, organic vegetable producers employ green manures or compost to supply their crops with needed nutrients, and organic livestock operators pay much attention to their pastures to limit parasite infection. These are just a few examples. While many farmers may struggle at first with these obstacles, most come to enjoy the challenge of trying new things to make their operation work at its best and throughly appreciate farming in a holistic manner within an agro-ecosystem.

I hope that this has helped to answer your questions. Again, don't hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions or comments.

Cheers,
Joanna
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Re: Organic beekeeping

Postby oacc_admin » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:53 am

The following conversation was held via e-mail between Michael Rzeszutek of Operation Bee (http://www.operationbee.com) and the OACC (http://www.oacc.info). The discussion is posted here with the permission of both parties. We invite you to follow the conversation and welcome you to post additional information or questions that you may have on the subject of organic apiculture and the role of organic agriculture in maintaining pollinator populations.

Once again, thank you so much for the e-mail. No doubt, we go through so many sources and have been constantly researching, looking through studies, etc., but we always somehow missed the explanations and the reality to what we are reading. Here, I finally get what this is all about! I hope you don’t mind with a few last questions in response to your e-mail.

In terms of organic agriculture promoting native pollinators, do organic farmers rely on managed honey bees to pollinate their crops? (Are bees transported the same way as conventional farming?) In effect, can large farms that become organic still promote native pollinators or this only works with small-scale farming?

Also, if organic apiculture is a subcategory of organic agriculture, does that also mean that organic apiculture is a requirement for organic agriculture as a whole?

To give context to all of these questions, the whole idea of organic with us is that we really take the position that immunity suppression is behind the disappearance of bees. This primarily includes systemic pesticides used in farms and monoculture, two components that organic agriculture does not allow (organic strives for sustainability right?). And in reality, organic agriculture is the solution because the bee crisis is an indicator for a much larger crisis that requires a whole shift in the way we treat our environment. Essentially, we are developing campaigns that will urge people to eat organic food (in context of a crisis of dying bees) so we can seriously create a large demand for organic food. This would hopefully raise the demands for organic food and if the big dream happens, we can slowly push down the need for pesticide-sprayed food. For us, banning pesticides is not a long-term solution (which would be practically impossible to do anyways). In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing that we need to primarily do in order to transform conventional, unsustainable agriculture into sustainable, organic, pesticide-free, GMO-free agriculture?

The only problem is that some disagree with the entire question…I got one e-mail that really puts an obstacle in basically, the whole reason why Operation Bee exists. What do you think?

“With 6 billion people on the planet today with an expected 50 percent increase in the world’s population 40 years from now, according to the UN, organic agriculture alone simply will not feed the planet, in my opinion. Indeed, in the U.S. market organic grown crops represent a very small part of the consumers food dollars, because when given a choice, consumers don’t purchase enough organic grown produce and livestock to make it economically viable at a level of market scale. That’s why, organic continues to essentially be a niche, though in many cases profitable part of the market. Today, the problem of hunger is mostly economic tied to lack of purchasing capacity. However, even the UN says that to meet the demand in the world by 2050 there needs to be a 70 percent increase in agricultural production capacity. The translates into more research and investment. Most of the poor countries around the world I’ve visited, from Sahelian Africa to the South Pacific, are affected by harsh climates, lack of water, poor access to inputs, marketing systems, farm to market roads, etc., which doesn’t even take into account the problems caused by civil strife in places like Somalia today or natural disasters. The only way, in my opinion, that the problems can be addressed is though the development of disease-resistant, drought-resistant, pest-resistant seed varieties, the crop inputs to grow the crops in enough quantities to feed the growing populations, access to credit to smallholder farmers, post-harvesting storage systems, a shift from smallholder farming to small-scale commercial farming and the existence of local markets. I think that bees are an important contributor to all this on the production side, but one does not replace the other, in my opinion.”

Thanks SO much!! This information is extremely helpful!!
Michael
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Re: Organic beekeeping

Postby oacc_admin » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:58 am

The following conversation was held via e-mail between Michael Rzeszutek of Operation Bee (http://www.operationbee.com) and the OACC (http://www.oacc.info). The discussion is posted here with the permission of both parties. We invite you to follow the conversation and welcome you to post additional information or questions that you may have on the subject of organic apiculture and the role of organic agriculture in maintaining pollinator populations.

Hi Michael,

I am glad that you are finding this information helpful. I will try to answer your remaining questions, but I am afraid that some of them are just un-answerable.

You asked if organic farmers rely on managed bees to pollinate their crops. This would largely depend on the scale and type of operation. There are many small mixed vegetable operations that no doubt do well with only the native pollinators that their farming practices tend to promote (and I should mention that if you want to learn more about how organic promotes biodiversity, we at OACC have compiled many scientific abstracts on this topic that can be seen at http://www.oacc.info/ResearchDatabase/res_ecology.asp and a few more resources are available at http://www.oacc.info/Extension/ecology_environment.asp). On the other hand, I suspect that there are many larger fruit operations and such that may need to rely upon commercial honey bees to at least assist with pollination. I cannot say how many farms would employ either method, nor do I know much about the transportation, etc. of the bees. I am sorry that I cannot give you many concrete answers here - perhaps contacting larger scale organic fruit operation in B.C. would give you some more insight into this topic.

Organic apiculture is probably not considered to be a requirement for organic agriculture. Yet, organic farming strives to be holistic, which is a principle that would certainly encourage say the owners of an organic orchard to also practice organic beekeeping (or work with a local organic beekeeper), in an effort to close the system and not rely on imported bees. I do not believe that there is a requirement for organic operators to use organically managed hives on their land.

You asked "In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing that we need to primarily do in order to transform conventional, unsustainable agriculture into sustainable, organic, pesticide-free, GMO-free agriculture?" This is a large and complicated question that likely does not have just one answer. You are doing your part by encouraging people to think about bees when making their purchasing decisions, while we at OACC are trying to educate and promote the science behind organic agriculture. I think this largely comes down to education. Many people simply do not think much about the food that they eat and the impact that it can have on the world around them. Once people start to see the environmental benefits of sustainable farming, they will be more likely to think twice about the food that they eat and the type of farms that they support in doing so.

There will always be the detractors, those who argue that organic cannot feed the world, is more expensive and less efficient. And I will admit here and now for the sake of clarity that I am a supporter of organic agriculture, and someone on the other side of this debate may see my views as biased. Yet more and more studies and reports are showing that this is often not the case. For example, see this recent FAO report that shows that while organic yields in the developed world may lag slightly behind conventional, in the developing world (where more food is needed the most) organic yields often outweigh those seen in conventional farms (http://www.oacc.info/MarketInfo/mkt_fao_profitability.asp). You can see more about the feeding the world debate here http://www.oacc.info/Issues/iss_feed_world.asp.

And while biotechnology may seem to hold promise for increased yields and higher nutrient content, this is not the way this has played out to date - all GM traits to date focus on pest or weed control measures that have actually promoted the use of pesticides (see this report by the Organic Center in the U.S. http://www.oacc,info/Docs/OrganicCenterUSA/13Years20091116.pdf). This is not to say that someday GM traits might serve to elevate yields or increase nutrient content.

While organic may still hold only a small share of the market, it has been the fastest growing segment of the food market for the past number of years, growing while even other segments decline (see http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/080328/dq080328a-eng.htm and http://www.organicnewsroom.com/2010/12/consumer_survey_finds_41_of_pa.html as examples). Organic may be more expensive in the grocery store, but these prices represent the true cost of food, it is food that has not been subsidized, that delivers environmental services instead of contributing to environmental degradation, food that relies on labour and knowledge instead of chemicals, food that is monitored throughout its production and adheres to standards.

This debate will no longer go on, but education and scientific evaluations and comparisons will eventually help to paint a clearer picture.

I hope that this information helps.

Cheers,
Joanna
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