Saturday, January 12, 2008

Friday was occupied by a number of sessions. Dr. Larry Connor’s Serious Sideliner Symposium began and was held opposite the final presentations of the American Bee Research Conference. At the same time, the general session sported presentations on the futures of the current and proposed honey board and predictions about the state of the almond pollination industry from both beekeepers and almond growers (also themselves beekeepers). I presented some information on discussion lists and web sites in the sideliner session, and attended discussions in the ABRC of queen mating efficiency and sperm cyopreservation. There appear to be significant advances in the knowledge in the latter.

Joe Traynor, the industry’s traditional pollination “broker” (he prefers the term “contractor”) provided hints on the season; set a price around $140 - $150 and then communicate with your customers and don’t flinch. His advice was also seconded by others that now the word is out that pollination matters and beekeepers should not be shy about asking for a rental price that is appropriate. Each year there is significant “agitation” this time of year as both beekeepers and growers try to “read the tea leaves” with respect to supply and demand for bees. For everyone’s sake, all recommended coming to terms as early as possible (June- July if possible) to ensure the best experience for all.

The almond prices continue to support the bee industry; they are responsible for the income to beekeepers from pollination outstripping income from honey production. The almond board too deserves credit for keeping the price and demand up. However, there are clouds on the horizon. The weak dollar means that those purchasing with Euros are getting a big break and the actual market price peaked last year at about $3.00/lb and now has settled at about $1.75..still high, but not at record levels. No one knows what this might portend, however, another 50,000 acres of almonds is due to come online in the next few years. I remember the interest in Australia in almonds and hearing that that country too is eyeing the market that California has developed.

Of special significance to beekeepers is the development of an organization called Project Apis Mellifera <> a development by almond growers in cooperation with beekeepers. This is an non-profit given over to bee research, inspired by almond growers who see their health intricately associated with bee keepers. The suggested donation to fund the various projects (see the web site) is $1/hive for both grower and beekeeper. At the present time donations are 2 to 1 in favor of almond growers. Dan Cummings, former Chair of the Almond Board, and now Chair of Project Apis Mellifera, discussed the advantage of doing research via this non-profit, useful because turn around time is quick and the Project can literally begin a study in literally hours as compared to other bureaucracies that take much longer.

The final presentations of the day began with an explanation by trade attorney Micheal Coursey concerning U.S. Customs and the fact that much of the money in duties owed by importers was not being collected. A new kind of honey “packers blend” has been developed by the Chinese to creatively get around countervailing duties.

A representative of U.S. Customs discussed Country of Origin Labeling and how this was being ramped up with reference to honey. A limiting factor is lack of suitable samples for controls from various countries, but that is being rectified in the future. One of the issues reported by Richard Adee in another situation was the Chinese use of “packer blend” honey; this ultra filtered product the Chinese say is less than 50% honey and so no countervailing duty is needed; however, it really is honey and so this represents an elegant way to avoid paying the duty.

A panel on the prospects of the world honey market discussed a number of issues from prognostications on the world crop (Argentina is thought to have a small crop, but this has surprised folks in the past), Brazil is ramping up export (its honey was not allowed into Europe but now that has been rectified). The world price appears to still be stable at best around $.50/lb. Richard Adee in an earlier presentation related that the honey loan deficiency payments in the new Farm Bill would probably be between $.52 and $.72 per pound. A big problem in the domestic market according to Dwight Stoller of Golden Heritage foods is that much of U.S. honey cannot be exported because it contains unacceptable levels of tylosin, a potential wake up call for all beekeepers in the country.

George Hanson provided a report on The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc. <>. Six students around the nation were supported by the Foundation by providing each with $2,000. Reports from these studies were given during the American Bee Research Conference. The luncheon honoring the students was keynoted by a spirited speech on scientific ethics and career prospects by retired USDA researcher, Dr. William T. Wilson. “Bill” was introduced using the words I wrote regarding his retirement at the meeting of the American Beekeeping Federation in the year 2000

Dr. Marla Spivak discussed her concept of developing a bee lab as part of construction of a new natural history museum on the U. of Minnesota St. Paul campus in a place that is very near the outdated “honey house.” She is embarking on a fund raising effort to find donors interested in an attached honey bee exhibit to the museum.

Finally, Colin Stewart of USDA APHIS provided an effort to discuss the current status of importing bees and bee products. He was taken to task by many for what a lot of beekeepers see as inconsistent policy decisions by APHIS with reference to stock and semen importation. He said that the new research he had seen at the conference was a real eye opener and the kind he and his agency needed to make informed decisions. A special case is the existence of quantities of imported Chinese pollen in U.S. warehouses that APHIS seemed unaware of. Much of this pollen has been sterilized by irradiation, but some is not leading to several raised eyebrows and questions about the adequacy of irradiation and its impact on the pollen’s ability to nourish honey bees. The session ended with few agreements by APHIS and attending beekeepers exacerbated by an obvious problem of lack of communication between the two parties.

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