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ARS insect physiologist and Geezer Ridge Farm beekeeper swapping of boxes of honey bees. Link to photo information
ARS Bee Research Lab insect physiologist Miguel Corona (left) and Geezer Ridge Farm beekeeper Ed Forney in the midst of swapping of boxes of honey bees in a new partnership aimed at improving colony losses. Click the image for more information about it.

USDA Scientists and Beekeepers Swap Colonies to Better Bees

By Kim Kaplan
June 21, 2016

BELTSVILLE, Md., June 21, 2016 —The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory and Geezer Ridge Farm apiary have begun an unusual partnership that may help honey bees take another step up the survival ladder.

"Usually with science, researchers finish a study and turn the results over to beekeepers to apply; then researchers start on the next experiments and so on," explains entomologist Jay Evans, research leader of the Beltsville, Maryland lab and one of the USDA's pioneers in bee health science.

This time, the Bee Research Lab is studying the success Geezer Ridge Farm in Hedgesville, West Virginia, has had improving honey bee health after applying USDA research results.

Last winter, beekeepers Cheryl and Ed Forney lost only 4 percent of their bee colonies compared to the national average of 30 percent.

"We believe strongly in science-based beekeeping. It's the Bee Research Lab—some of the most talented and published researchers in the country—that helped us get our colonies as healthy as they are now. From their (ARS') information, we've adapted management strategies and bred bees that are tailored to the Mid-Atlantic's climate," Ed Forney said.

To see if this success is scientifically repeatable, Geezer Ridge Farm and the ARS Bee Research Lab are exchanging colonies. Forty USDA hives have already taken up residence in West Virginia and another 80 may join them to see if they will survive the 2016-2017 winter in better condition under Geezer Ridge Farm management.

"This is an opportunity to give back. We are going to see if we can stabilize the USDA research colonies and make them as sustainable as the stock here at Geezer Ridge Farm," Forney added.

Thirty-five of Forney's 250 colonies have come to Beltsville where ARS researchers will study their basic biology and genetics to see if they differ from the average honey bee. In the process, they'll try to pinpoint whether their increased survival is due to better genetics, better management, or both.

Three ARS Bee Research Lab scientists are involved in the partnership with Geezer Ridge Farm. Each focuses on a different research area addressing threats to bee health. Insect physiologist Miguel Corona, who initiated this collaboration, focuses on bee nutrition such as devising new ways to deliver more protein in honey bee diets. Entomologist Steven Cook is studying how to improve honey bees' physiological health as well as their abilities to overcome stress. Lastly, Jay Evans's work concentrates on researching and combating bee disease.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. The Agency's job is finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products; assess the nutritional needs of Americans; sustain a competitive agricultural economy; enhance the natural resource base and the environment and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.