Organic produce is one of the fastest growing sectors in the agricultural industry, but beekeepers in the U.S are faced with one huge challenge when it comes to meeting the strict regulations.
To be able to get organic certification, beekeepers must maintain a 3 km pesticide free radius around their colonies. The 3 km radius, which was based on the maximum foraging distance of bees, is to ensure bees cannot have contact with agricultural pesticides, regardless of what pesticides and miticides are used on the colony. However, due to the density and layout of agricultural land, finding locations that meet the zoning requirements is not an easy task.
Emerging research is questioning the validity of the 3 km rule. Preliminary data from Penn state University, coupled with published research suggests that the surrounding landscape can influence foraging distance. Colonies in high quality environments may have significantly smaller foraging ranges.
To delve further into the foraging patterns of bees, researchers led by Margarita López-Uribe, Lorenzo L. Langstroth and a team of Penn State entomologists have been granted $1.5 million U.S by the U.S Dept of Agriculture.
The objective of the research project is to evaluate whether the recommendations for pesticide free zones can be reduced, based on more context specific empirical data such as the quality of the landscape and colony size.
The team will use automated tag readers to track bee movements, along with harmonic radars to read bee waggle dance’s; the mode communication employed by bees to communicate abundant food locations.
Once the data is collected, researchers plan to develop floral maps, satellite imagery, ground based observation and pollen meta barcoding to create a seasonal quality index. This index will be capable of predicting the foraging distances for colonies in different landscapes and may offer more empirically relevant zoning requirements when determining organic certification.
Bee products currently contribute more than $300 million to the U.S economy, not to mention the enormous value honeybees add through agricultural pollination. This research may help beekeepers take advantage of the high market value of organic produce, by providing more sophisticated and relevant regulations.
Grant funds research that could help certification of organic honey bee products
Chuck Gill, UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa, Sept 16 2022,