The Pryor Times

March 6, 2014

USDA concerned with bee health

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

PRYOR, OK — “I look out in the hive and it’s like nobody’s home,” beekeeper George Brining said.

Brining is one of four Mayes County beekeepers that make up Gold Standard Honey, and he has some thoughts on the current honey bee crisis.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service will “provide close to $3 million in technical and financial assistance for interested farmers and ranchers to help improve the health of bees,” according to an USDA press release.

The funding is targeted at five midwestern states, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Brining says the problem affects Oklahoma as well, but he’s not sure additional funding will solve the problem.

“The government solution is generally more money, which means more taxes,” said Brining. “They’ve done a lot of research but I don’t know that more money would necessarily help. Seems like paper pushing.

“I look out in the hives and they are all dead in there,” Brining said, adding that there are three main causes for the decrease in honey bees and their declining health.

“First is the varroa mite, which attaches to the abdomen of the bee and weakens the entire hive,” said Brining. “Another huge factor is a decrease in foraging area.”

The USDA release says the financial assistance will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. The example cited is “appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management that may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators.”

“The third-biggest problem is general disease and viruses. Keeping the bees healthy is sometimes a challenge,” said Brining who, along with the other three members of Gold Standard Honey, keeps a total of roughly 2,400 hives. “Viral infections are a huge problem. They essentially cause dysentery and weaken the bees.”

Brining said there are other factors and theories which contribute to the declining bee population.

“I’ve heard of them being disoriented by the chemicals in fertilizers or by the signal from cell phone towers. Dealing with these factors has been devastating,” said Brining, who lost half his hives in 2012. “But every time you raise something, there’s an enemy to contend with.”

He said weather is another key factor.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Honey bee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet. The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees.”

Vilsack, in the USDA press release, said “expanded support for research, combined with the USDA’s other efforts to improve honey bee health should help America’s beekeepers combat with the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year.”

“Bees are pollinators and pollen has to get to the flowers. Imagine looking in a store and if someone waved a wand to make everything that relied on bees disappear, something like two-thirds of the items on the shelves would disappear. It’s kind of scary to think about,” said Brining.

While the funding does not apply to Oklahoma beekeepers, Brining agrees with the USDA assessment that beekeepers are losing approximately 30 percent of their honey bee colonies each year.

He said he has some ideas on how to improve the situation should any funding make its way to Oklahoma.

“I think finding a non-lethal way of dealing with the varroa mites would be crucial. They are insects and the bees are insects, so its tricky to figure out how to get rid of the mites without harming the bees,” said Brining. “I’d also like to see an incentive program for farmers and ranchers to allow hives on their property rather than haying it off or spraying.”

Gold Standard Honey is available at 25 locations in Tulsa and the surrounding area.  More information, and a map of places to buy Gold Standard Honey, is available on thewebsite,