Beekeepers and Producers Working Together for Healthy Bees
The Bee Integrated Demonstration Project brings together beekeepers and landowners to show how an array of best management practices (BMPs) can be combined in agricultural landscapes to improve the health of honey bees and other pollinators. Multiple factors affect bee health, including pests and diseases, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure. Addressing any one factor by itself is good — but working together to address all of these factors is even better.
Watch our brief project summary video
How the Project Works
The Bee Integrated Demonstration Project:
- Pairs local beekeepers and producers to apply best management practices
- Supports these pairs with expertise, training and resources.
- Measures the impact on bee populations for three years.
- Shares findings with the beekeeping and agricultural communities.
The project was piloted in North Dakota, which is both the nation’s leading honey production state and the home of apiaries that provide pollination services across the country. Beekeepers and producers throughout North America will be able to apply the lessons learned to improve bee and butterfly health in their own areas.
The Honey Bee Health Coalition’s initial pilot of the Bee Integrated approach in North Dakota (2017-2019) paired six beekeepers with farmers or landowners and has found that, compared with a control, the best practices implemented together resulted in:
- Larger honey bee colony sizes
- Increased pollen diversity in the bees’ diets
- More managed and native bees observed
- Enhanced motivation by participating farmers and landowners to understand and help their beekeeper partners
Farmer and Beekeeper Insights
Scott Krogstad, right, grows sugar beets, soybeans, spring wheat, corn, black beans, pinto beans, and barley on about 8,000 acres. He joined the Bee Integrated pilot project to learn more about beekeepers’ concerns and said, “I realized they have just as many or more challenges as we do.” He was glad to see bees and other pollinators feeding on the forage he planted. “It takes a little time and effort to get the plot established,” he said, but “if you weren’t making any money on that ground in the past, it’s just a good decision. … It’s just a win-win.”
Rachel Wald said the Bee Integrated approach fit with conservation-minded activities that she and her husband, Dylan, left, were exploring for their 900-acre cattle ranch and farm. After some effort establishing the forage, it’s now flourishing, she said. The Walds’ beekeeper partner, Joan Gunter, praised project’s technical support teams who helped with hive management as well as the forage component: “You have an instant source the bees can go to for pollen and nectar, and it’s a great way to boost up your bee health.”
Beekeeper Zac Browning said, “I’m involved in the Bee Integrated Demonstration Project because I feel like we have a responsibility as beekeepers to tell our story, and we’re working with everybody in agriculture and everybody who has to do with landscape decisions. … We’ve got to show everybody not only what’s happening in our business but how it relates to the rest of agriculture.”
North Dakota beekeeper John Miller, right, partnered with ranchers Estee and Richard Nenow. Estee said, “When we saw the opportunity for a kind of symbiotic relationship with us and John, that was a no-brainer for us.”
1: Find a partner
- If you’re a beekeeper, find a farmer. The farmer should be willing to plant and maintain pollinator forage, follow pesticide stewardship best practices, and communicate with you regularly about pesticide applications or concerns.
- If you’re a farmer or landowner, find a beekeeper. The beekeeper should be willing to put hives on your land, follow best practices for hive management, and communicate with you regularly about any pesticide management concerns.
2: Implement the best management practices alongside your partner
- Communication: Take a little time to get to know each other and create a plan. We recommend a half- or full-day job swap or tour of each partner’s operation to better understand the factors your partner considers in their day-to-day decision-making. Create a communication plan so you know how to contact each other if an issue arises.
- Pollinator Habitat: If you’re the farmer or landowner, establish pollinator habitat on your land. For guidance and financial help with site selection, seed mix selection, and other best practices for establishing high-quality pollinator forage, contact private programs — like the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund, Pheasants Forever, and Project Apis m. — or federal programs through closest U.S. Department of Agriculture NRCS or FSA office.
- Varroa Management: If you’re the beekeeper, establish an apiary near the habitat and then follow the Coalition’s Varroa Management guide and BMPs for Hive Health. To learn more about monitoring and treating varroa, you can watch the Coalition’s training videos. For technical assistance with varroa mites, contact the Bee Informed Partnership.
- Crop Pest Management: Check out your state’s pollinator protection plan as well as other pollinator protection resources. Many states have Managed Pollinator Protection Plans that provide guidance on pesticide stewardship, beekeeper-farmer communications, and other topics. Pollinator BMPs are also available for specific crops, such as almonds, canola, corn, and soybeans, and for seed treatment stewardship and crop pest advisor training. Beekeepers: Consider registering your hives with BeeCheck so that pesticide applicators can help protect hives.
3: Measure your impact (encouraged)
- Beekeepers can record honey production, varroa mite levels, and overwintering survival rates over time at the colony and apiary level. Other hive health indicators you could monitor include disease, brood patterns, queen status, pesticide-related colony loss incidents, forage utilization rates, and colony weight. For help monitoring this data, contact the Bee Informed Partnership or check with your state apiarist.
- Farmers and beekeepers can work together to observe flowering species in the forage planting and the diversity and abundance of bees that visit. Pollen traps can be added to hives to collect pollen that can be used to analyze the diversity and abundance of flowering plants the bees visit.
- Farmers and beekeepers can track changes they make as a result of enhanced communication and pesticide stewardship practices. If there is a suspected bee health incident due to pesticide exposure, use the Coalition’s Incident Reporting Guide for next steps
Optional: Share your results
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to report your results and/or send videos, photos, blogs, etc. to the Coalition. We may contact you to learn more about your experience!
Learn more by reading our fact sheet or by clicking on the image to start the interactive presentation. (Be sure to turn on your device’s audio.)