Home Precision Agriculture Is Virginia’s Beekeeping Lottery a Good Idea?

Is Virginia’s Beekeeping Lottery a Good Idea?


Virginia’s honeybees are dying.

Sadly, it’s not a distinctive drawback; there’s hardly a area of the nation that isn’t coping with the mass dying of huge numbers of honeybees or different pollinators. The Bee Knowledgeable Partnership estimates that U.S. beekeepers misplaced round 45.5 % of their managed honey bee colonies between April 2020 and April 2021—the second-highest loss recorded by the group.

However for Virginia’s state apiarist Keith Tignor, honeybees have been Virginia’s “canary in the coal mine,” signaling a dramatic decimation of the assorted fauna that pollinate the state’s cultivated crops.

“Once we identified issues with the loss of the honeybees, particularly with hive management of honeybees but also with the feral or the wild honeybees, researchers and others began looking at other pollinator populations like our bumblebees, like our butterflies,” says Tignor.

A lot is at stake to show across the declining honeybee inhabitants numbers. Honeybees are important pollinators for round a third of Virginia’s fruit and vegetable crops. Tignor warns that shedding these bees may end in ecological unintended effects together with elevated produce costs on the market and a common must shift dietary necessities to lean on crops that depend on wind pollination, like grains.

In an try and sort out the difficulty, Virginia has developed a noteworthy strategy to deal with the difficulty: a beehive distribution program that has garnered its share of advocates and critics alike. Any Virginian resident over the age of 18 can apply to be randomly chosen to obtain as much as three free hives, with a number of sizes out there to them from which to decide on. Nonprofits, authorities companies and companies can’t apply, though the state permits people who later determine to kind a bee-related enterprise to maintain the tools.

“One of the things that we can do for the honeybees is…provide the equipment for people to establish beehives to at least sustain or possibly increase the population of honeybees that are out,” says Tignor.

Photograph courtesy of Kristine Smith.

Provided that “honeybees are generous pollinators,” in keeping with Tignor, the bugs are anticipated to “increase habitat and forage for all of our other pollinators,” spurring an agricultural domino principle of types. And offering free beehives to Virginians simply may tempt wannabe beekeepers to pitch in to assist assist a resurgent inhabitants.

Virginia’s beekeeping distribution program isn’t new. It initially began in 2013 as a grant program, reimbursing beekeepers for sure bought tools. In 2018, after quite a few legislative and coverage tweaks, it advanced into the tools distribution lottery it’s right now.

But for such an intense and immersive exercise, this system has no requirement for prior data or expertise with beekeeping to obtain tools. Some critics of this system take concern with that.

In response to Tignor, roughly half of beehive functions in 2019 have been from Virginians who didn’t checklist any present beekeeping expertise. Fifty-two % of candidates referred to as themselves energetic beekeepers. Candidates with prior beekeeping expertise famous proudly owning a mean of 5 hives.

The Virginia Division of Agriculture and Shopper Companies (VDACS), which distributes the beehives, does present recipients with a beekeeping guide that covers matters comparable to seasonal administration and honey processing, a PDF that Tignor says is complete however not in-depth, in addition to a checklist of golf equipment and mentors providing courses.

A row of beehives. Photograph courtesy of Kristine Smith.

The state doesn’t take a look at whether or not potential bee tools recipients have learn the paperwork or retained the data, nor does the company at the moment observe whether or not recipients take a class or bear another schooling. Nonetheless, a report ready by VDACS in 2017 summarizing the influence of the primary iteration of this system famous that simply “two‐thirds of these individuals [who received grants for beehives] had received training in honey bee management prior to constructing their beehives either through a class or working with a mentor.”

The company writes in a program steerage doc that it reserves “the right to inquire into the legitimacy of any application, as well as the right to inspect any bee colony established in a beehive unit received as part of the program.” Nonetheless, Tignor says there’s no hive inspection requirement per se, as inspections are sometimes carried out for somebody promoting bees or associated merchandise.

The company additionally requires that “beehive units must be used to establish a new beehive with a viable colony of honey bees within one year of the date the items are received by an individual,” which Tignor says is extra of a “visual verification” that there are bees flying round a constructed hive than an inspection of situations contained in the hive.

Whereas the present program targets hobbyists, sustaining a hive of honeybees is extra than simply an amusing curiosity through which one can periodically indulge. The VDACS thought-about this, noting within the report that managing a beehive requires a excessive diploma of bodily labor—hive bins crammed with honey should not mild—and data of honeybee conduct. It goes on to quote the “closer monitoring” wanted to mitigate the identical honeybee pests and ailments that hasten the bees’ inhabitants declines. “The more information and training an individual receives in beekeeping, the greater the individual’s satisfaction and experience and the more likely this person will continue keeping bees,” the report continued.

How Do Virginian Beekeepers Really feel In regards to the Program?

Beginner beekeepers won’t concentrate on the main time funding required forward of time, some Virginian beekeepers advised. Nor may they’ve real looking expectations of the extra tools wanted.

Glenn Clayton, who runs Hungry Hill Farm in Shipman, Virginia, says that, in his expertise,  many new beekeepers are reluctant to pay for {the electrical} fencing wanted in some elements of the state to keep at bay bears. Clayton can’t perceive why this system doesn’t require any proof of schooling to get bee tools.

Electrical fencing round beehives helps keep at bay bears. Photograph courtesy of Alissa Carter.

“I know several people that have gotten this [equipment] and they never took a course, they kept the bees one year—in fact some of them didn’t keep them one year—because they died off and they never did anything else with them again,” Clayton says. “If you’re going to get bees and let them die off, what’s that do [for the environment]?”

Beekeeper Stephen Rogers agrees. Due to his navy expertise, Rogers thinks this system is a good thought, however he says that “the road to hell is paved with them.” He desires the company to do its “due diligence” and make sure the program’s advantages are maximized. “There needs to be accountability and there needs to be an assessment of the program,” says Rogers, who says that giving tools to untrained beekeepers with out following up to ensure the hives are doing effectively doesn’t really feel prefer it passes that benchmark.

Whereas some beekeepers agree there are dependable, truthful on-line assets for novices, a number of bemoaned counting on on-line movies and blogs to select up suggestions.

Lynn Berry is a kind of beekeepers. He by no means supposed to take up the pastime, however seven seasons in the past, his spouse and mother-in-law determined the household ought to have bees. Additionally they determined he could be the one to deal with all the things. After taking courses with the native beekeeping membership group— the Moonshine Beekeepers Affiliation of Rocky Mount, Virginia—he knew precisely what he wanted to get began.

Lynn Berry holds up a body of bees. Photograph courtesy of Lynn Berry.

“Everybody should take a hands-on class,” says Berry. “On the Internet, there are some good resources, but nothing really beats hands-on instruction.”

Taking dangerous Web recommendation killed Virginia beekeeper Anna Shimko’s bees. Whereas she did attend a native class and has some relations with beekeeping expertise, Shimko says that, as “an independent person,” she didn’t need to burden group members and pester individuals with a slew of queries.

So when Shimko learn some recommendations on Fb, she determined to strive it. Quickly after, she found all of her employee bees have been useless. “The best way to learn beekeeping, in my opinion, is you absolutely take the class before you even have the bees,” Shimko says. “I need to feel, touch, smell. I need to be actively doing it to actually figure out how it works.”

Bringing New Beekeepers Into the Fold

For each beekeeper who casts doubt about distributing beekeeping tools to untrained amateurs, one other has no concern. Some even embrace the dearth of an schooling requirement.

“The point of [the program] is to bring new beekeepers into the fold,” says Martha Kiene, president of the Virginia State Beekeepers Affiliation, including that she does encourage in-person studying.

However as a result of new beekeepers may lack the funds or time to get educated in a hands-on approach, she thinks it’s unfair for VDACS to impose such a restriction on candidates.

“You start putting this stuff on them and then it’s just unenforceable. And maybe you shouldn’t enforce it; maybe you just hope that the person will get some education, whether they’re self-taught, whether they have a mentor, whether their brother-in-law is going to help them with it, whether they go to the class…or the bee meetings,” says Kiene. “There’s a bunch of ways to become educated without taking an actual class.”

Annaliis Canty, a third-year Virginia beekeeper, says she hadn’t met any novices who weren’t interested by educating themselves correctly or who have been overconfident of their skills. However she nonetheless desires the state to ensure future beekeepers have some thought of what they’re doing earlier than getting began.

It needs to be “something that demonstrates more than just ‘oh, yeah, I totally did that,’ and check the box,” says Canty. “Something a little more rigorous than that [in order] to say, ‘Yeah, I went through a class or I did some learning,’ and I’m not going to just let my bees fend for themselves.”


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