That was the most commonly asked question at the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) booth during the California Agriculture Day on Wednesday, March 22 on the west lawn of the State Capitol.
The annual event, heralding the first day of spring and showcasing the state's many crops and commodities, also offers an opportunity "for farmers and ranchers to show their appreciation by bringing together state legislators, government leaders and the public for agricultural education," a spokesperson said. This year's theme: "Food for Life."
Despite the light rain, several thousand crowded through the gates to visit the 52 booths, see 4-H and FFA animals, and to sample everything from tri-tip sandwiches from the Buckhorn Restaurant to strawberries from the California Strawberry Commission to milk from the Dairy Council of California to honey from the CSBA. Scores of other activities abounded.
The CSBA crew handed out some 2500 honey bee sticks-- long straws filled with honey--to two groups of people: legislators and staff from 10:30 to 11:30, and the public from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
A message affixed to each honey stick emphasized the importance of honey bees.
Honey bees, the five-bullet message related:
- Are the backbone of U.S. agriculture
- Pollinate 1/3 of the human diet
- Pollinate 120 various U.S. crops worth over $15 billion
- Pollinate California's $5.3 billion almond productions
- Produced over $200 million in U.S. honey and beeswax
The bees arrived, too. Providing the two bee observation hives: Bernardo Niño, who serves as the program manager of the California Master Beekeepers' Program, based at UC Davis, and Bill Cervenka, a longtime CSBA member. To visitor queries, they pointed out the whereabouts of the queen bee in the Laidlaw hive with: “Look for the pink one!” referring to the queen bee marked with a pink dot.
And just how are the bees doing?
"It's a challenge," Niño said, detailing some of the issues, from parasites, pesticides and pests to diseases and malnutrition. The "bee educators" also referred to the 44 percent loss: a national survey showed that beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2015 to April 2016. "Rates of both winter loss and summer loss—and consequently, total annual losses—worsened compared with last year," according to Bee Informed. This marks the second consecutive survey year that summer loss rates rivaled winter loss rates. (See survey.)
CSBA, a non-profit organization serving California's beekeeping industry--primarily commercial beekeepers and queen breeders--actively supports bee research efforts; works with government officials to protect and promote the interest of the beekeeping industry; and educates the public about the beneficial aspects of honey bees. Officials say that the group supports research beneficial to beekeeping practices, provides a forum for the cooperation among beekeepers, and supports the economic viability of the beekeeping industry. Membership also includes a subscription to "The California Bee Times" and automatic membership in the $10,000 Bee Theft Rewards Program.
The E. L. Niño lab, directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, supports California beekeepers through research, extension, and outreach. Their website lists current beekeeping courses which began March 11 and continue through June 11. They also maintain the E. L. Niño Lab Facebook site.
When legislators, agriculturists, and city folk celebrated California Ag Day on Wednesday, March 16 on the west lawn of the state capitol grounds, everything buzzed, including the bees inside an observation hive in the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) booth.
CSBA, to draw attention to the state's smallest agricultural workers, annually staffs a booth filled with bees, bee information brochures, and honey sticks. CSBA member Bill Cervenka, who owns Bill Cervenka Apiaries in Half Moon Bay, provided his bee observation hive. He urged folks to place a hand on the glass to feel the heat and an ear to hear the buzz.
CSBA secretary-treasurer Carlin Jupe, Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of UC Davis, and Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen of UC Davis greeted the guests and answered their questions. Both Niño and Mussen are also members of the CSBA,
“We gave away 1800 honey sticks,” Jupe said. The sticks, purchased from Nature's Kicks, Salem, were filled with clover honey.
It was a delightful treat.
“Have something sweet from the California State Beekeepers' Association,” Cervenka told the passing crowds as he handed out the sticks.
Each honey stick contained a message:
- Honey bees are the backbone of agriculture
- They pollinate 1/3 of the human diet
- They pollinate 50 varied U.S. crops worth more than $20 billion
- They pollinate California's $2.5 billion almond production
- They produce $150 million in U.S. honey and beeswax
It's time for us all to “come together to celebrate agriculture and say thank you to farmers and ranchers but more importantly to say thank you to all the hands and hearts and minds that it takes to bring food from the field to our dinner tables every day,” Ross told the crowd.
“If you live and eat in California, you know what we mean—and across the nation and around the world, if it's on your plate, there's a good chance we grow it right here," she said. "Our farmers and ranchers grow 400 crops and agricultural commodities, from fruit and vegetable crops to livestock, dairy, eggs, nut, beans and grains. And we don't stop there—we grow timber, flowers and nursery plants, seeds, cottons and more.”
Ross said state legislators recognize the importance of farming in the Golden State, “just as they recognize farmers' responsibility to be good stewards of the natural resources under their care.”
She called Ag Day “an opportunity for those representatives to shake a farmer's hand and advance our shared understanding of the importance of our food supply.”
Visitors eagerly sampled not only honey sticks, but strawberries, almonds, dried plums, walnuts, pistachios, tangerines, apple slices, milk, ice cream, popcorn, chips, pulled pork in a cup, and tri-tip beef sliders, among other foods in the 40 agricultural booths. California's Floral Industry gifted each visitor with flowers. Other booths displayed a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables.
Everyone from 4-H'ers, FFA'ers, alpaca owners, the horse industry, the California State Fair, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection got into the act—just to name a few. (See list of exhibitors at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/agday/) All were happy to talk about what they do and why. The two ag detection beagles, Meyers and Floyd, proved to be a crowd favorite as they displayed their talents in detecting "contraband" ag produce from assorted luggage.
But the bees, the bees, made the entire Cal Ag Day possible. One third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees.
Golden State on Your Plate.
Honey bees are still in trouble.
University of California scientists hammered home that point tonight during the PBS NewsHour program on the colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the declining bee population.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology told Spencer Michels of the PBS NewsHOur that "We really don't seem to have accomplished a whole lot (since CCD surfaced five years ago), because we're still losing, on an average, approximately 30 percent or more of our colonies each year. And that's higher than -- than it used to be. Only 25 percent of the beekeepers seem to have this CCD problem over and over and over. The other 75 percent have their fingers crossed and say, 'I don't know what this is, but it's not happening to me.'"
CCD is indeed frustrating, agreed Mussen, beekeeper-researcher Randy Oliver of Grass Valley, and UC San Francisco researchers Joseph DeRisi, Michelle Flenniken and Charles Runkel.
Flenniken, a postdoctoral fellow in the Raul Andino lab at UCSF and the recipient of the Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Fellowship in Honey Bee Biology at UC Davis, was among the team of scientists who recently discovered four new bee viruses, a discovery that may help unlock the secrets of why the bee population is declining.
The team found the new viruses while examining viruses and microbes in healthy commercially managed honey bee colonies over a 10-month period.
"Honey bee colonies, kind of like human populations, are exposed to a number of viruses and pathogens throughout the whole -- the entire course of the year," Flenniken told Michels. "So what this study provides us is a normal, healthy colony baseline of the ebb and flow of the microbes associated with that colony throughout the course of the year."
Oliver, who maintains 1000 hives and who has dealt with CCD, pointed out that CCD is resulting in "new science, new interest and new researchers" studying the mysterious malady.
As scientists delve in the mysteries of what's ailing the bees, they're bound to learn what's causing it. Meanwhile, it's good to see a national news program exploring this topic.
(Read PBS NewsHour transcript. Read more about the declining bee population on Spencer Michels' blog.)