Beekeepers from around the state and country will gather at Albion College today through Saturday for the annual Heartland Apicultural Society Conference. The conference is open to the public, and it’s all about beekeeping, with classes for beginners along with activities like bee-themed storytelling and art. However, with bee populations declining across the country, some of the conference will also focus on simply helping bees survive. WMUK’s Robbie Feinberg spoke with society chairman and Michigan State University entomology professor Zachary Huang.
ROBBIE FEINBERG: In a state like Michigan, which is largely driven by agriculture, how important is beekeeping to the state?
ZACHARY HUANG: Beekeeping is hugely important. Bee pollination is worth about $1 billion per year in Michigan alone.
FEINBERG: The big story when it comes to bees continues to be Colony Collapse Disorder, which has decimated bee populations across the country. Can you give a brief overview of what the latest on Colony Collapse Disorder is, for people who may not be up to date?
HUANG: Colony Collapse Disorder has been with us for a good nine years. And it’s still here. Bees are still disappearing, although their proportion due to their supposed reforms recently has been a bit lower. Maybe 20 percent, last few years. We still don’t know what causes it. Poor nutrition. Stresses were put on to bees like transportation, bad feed were given. So three or four different factors that could combine and basically form a perfect storm.
FEINBERG: How has Michigan been affected so far? Are we doing better or worse than the rest of the country when it comes to CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder?
HUANG: I think we’re doing okay. I haven’t seen CCD myself, and nobody has reported CCD in the state. We’re on the map, just because some beekeepers bring their bees to Georgia, Florida, and lose their bees to CCD there. So Michigan is the map, saying we have CCD. But it’s not in the state. So I would stay we’re doing okay.
FEINBERG: So when it comes to a conference like the Heartland Apicultural Conference coming up, does something like CCD tend to overshadow everything else at the conference, with it being so pressing right now?
HUANG: Oh no, I don’t think so! Most people, I think a lot of them are new beekeepers. Maybe one-third of the new keepers just want to know what’s going on, want to get into beekeeping. Most of the other people are two to five year beekeepers. A few experienced beekeepers are speaking there. But CCD is just a part of the game, you just have to deal with it.
We do have a speaker, Dennis vanEngelsdorp, he has been with CCD stuff since the beginning. So he’s going to speak on CCD. But everyone else will be speaking on totally different topics. For example, I’ll be teaching honeybee anatomy. Teaching people how to dissect bees at their school. So just telling them fun facts, interesting stories.
FEINBERG: You mention that a lot of the people going to this conference are new people. Are we seeing more beekeepers today than we were seeing, say, five years ago?
HUANG: Definitely hobbyists. I think commercial beekeepers are pretty stable, maybe even decreasing. But the hobbyists are definitely increasing.
FEINBERG: That’s good to hear that more and more people are caring about the issue. So with more people and more attention, what’s being done on the state and federal levels to fight the die-offs?
HUANG: On the federal levels, they are promising funding for next year. Quite a bit of federal research funds, so that’s good. And as I mentioned, there’s a lot of new people getting into beekeeping. The federal government has also given money to growers to set aside lands to grow bee forage. And they get paid for that. So that’s good! We’re reacting to CCD slowly but surely.