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Dear beekeeper,

On 14 May the provisional results for the 2014-2015 winter mortality in the USA were published. According to these statistics from the Bee Informed Partnership (part of USDA, the American Ministry of Agriculture), mortality in bee colonies at beekeepers in the USA was more than 40%.

High mortality (50 – 70%) was also observed in Romania and Bulgaria. There, the conditions in the spring were cold and very wet. Comparable figures for winter mortality were also reported on bee association websites in various regions in Austria, Germany, Belgium and France. Provisional figures from Canada (Ontario) indicate winter mortality of 30 – 35%. To date, the BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) has shrouded itself in silence; just as it did last year.

Winter and seasonal mortality
The percentage mentioned for the USA is the sum of the winter mortality (1 October – 1 April) and the seasonal mortality (1 April – 1 October). Generally, winter mortality is 5 to 10 percentage points higher than seasonal mortality. According to the chart, that was also the case last year, but in the accompanying text we are informed that the seasonal mortality percentage at professional beekeepers was higher than the winter mortality.

European monitoring
Monitoring in Europe (including COLOSS, WUR/NBV) normally only notes the winter mortality. If a questionnaire asks beekeepers to note only the winter mortality, then this will not generate a complete picture of the true numbers of bee colonies lost. After all, what happens to bee colonies in August and September will not be included in the winter mortality percentage reported.

The EPILOBEE monitoring (Europe) reports show both winter mortality as well as mortality during the season. However, it is unclear whether the same definition (up to October 1) is used here.

It is interesting to note that the response to the questionnaire, or the number of beekeepers responding, is considerably lower than last year (6,128 respondents compared to 7,183 last year). This translates to about 5% of the total number of beekeepers in the USA. Perhaps beekeepers are tired of completing questionnaires. Or they are under the impression that submitting their own data contributes little to nothing to solving the problems. It's also interesting to note that local monitoring initiatives have a very high response rate.

Professional beekeepers
If we compare this year's responses to those of previous years, then we see that professional beekeepers, in particular, are increasingly reluctant to provide data. Because, generally speaking, professional beekeepers experience lower mortality than hobby beekeepers, this could mean that the total mortality was in fact lower than has now been reported.

Different types of monitoring
In the USA, monitoring consists of an online questionnaire. In Europe, beekeepers are also requested to complete a questionnaire for the COLOSS monitoring. An inherent weaknesses in this form of questionnaire is that they are completed on a voluntary basis is that it is never clear exactly how representative the data is. Other aspects of the data-gathering methods used are also questionable. For instance, for the EPILOBEE survey, locations with bees are visited several times by veterinary inspectors. The emphasis here lies strongly on the presence of diseases.

Differences between USA and Europe
Monitoring performance in the USA differs from that in Europe in many positive aspects. Even though proportionately far fewer beekeepers participate, the data concerns many more bee colonies (> 400,000 colonies, about 15-20% of the total number of bee colonies). In Europe, that maximum is 3%. The manner in which the data is processed in the in the USA is better. The reports are clear, and the data gathered is also publicly available. Interesting details always emerge, for example which methods and resources the beekeepers apply.

From the monitoring it is clear that each year many bee colonies throughout the USA are lost, and it also shows that the mortality level is way above the economically acceptable loss threshold of 17-19%. Each bee colony lost costs the American beekeeper $ 60-70. The cumulative loss borne by the more than 6,000 beekeepers mentioned above, this year alone, amounts to more than $ 10 million.

In theory, monitoring is good and important work, although in the 9 years since monitoring was introduced, no clear-cut pointers have been found for the exact cause of the death and disappearance of bee colonies, and no explanations for why some colonies continue to thrive. It is precisely in this area that we have gathered valuable data through accurate monitoring and additional research. Extremely interesting observations have been made in various tests with Ferro-Bee® which clearly show exactly what happens and why.

On examining the statistics from the USA for the past few years, it can be concluded that increasingly, bee colonies collapse earlier in the season, in other words in the period August to September. In this period, the bee colonies lose too many bees each week.

If large numbers of beekeepers in the USA start applying oxalic acid treatments (as recommended by the American government), then the chances are that there will be considerable occurrences of CCD, the sudden disappearance of entire colonies.

It should be clear that problems with the bees have not yet been solved, we may even be entering a new phase. In any case, shortly after the publication of the mortality statistics, the American government allocated $ 140 million for research and for various programs to solve the problems.

- Colony Loss 2014 – 2015: Preliminary Results »
- Study on honey bee colony mortality »
- Winter losses: better news this year »
- Monitoring »
What is Ferro-Bee®?
Ferro-Bee® is a ferrous formulation. It also contains components that promote iron absorption. Ferro-Bee® has been developed based on our fundamental scientific insights into the processes that cause bees die and disappear. Read more about Ferro-Bee® »
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