Managing A Mighty Mite

The National Cotton Council supported beekeepers’ request for a Varroa mite summit – seeing it as a key step for stopping honey bee health decline.

By Mark Lange
NCC President/CEO

 
What about the Varroa mite?

Honey bee health decline threatens the world’s agricultural enterprise and ecosystems, which rely on bees for pollination. Among several factors contributing to bee colony losses is the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, which was first detected in the United States in 1987. Researchers have agreed that this parasite remains the single most detrimental pest of honey bees and is closely associated with overwintering colony declines – as it is known to transmit viruses.

Few products are registered for control of Varroa mite in bee hives. In fact, chemical control has had limited success due partly to the development of Varroa populations resistant to those products. Also, the use of certain pesticides to control this mite has caused adverse effects on honey bees and accelerated mite resistance to these chemicals. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop alternative and effective control methods that can be used in an integrated pest management approach. Selective breeding for resistance and recent research are showing promise for managing Varroa. This includes a range of tools such as new miticides, microbial biological control agents and genomics, including RNAi, a relatively new technology involving the function of genes and their role in disease.

Why the need for a Varroa Summit?

The American Honey Producers Association recognized the valid Varroa mite threat and urged USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to host a Varroa mite summit. As I stated in this magazine’s November issue, the NCC continues to work closely with EPA, beekeepers, product registrants and others to find workable solutions to colony collapse disorder and honey bee health decline. We also recognize the Varroa threat so we supported the honey producers’ summit request by joining 15 other agricultural organizations on letters to EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy. The letters urged them to participate in a Varroa mite summit – as USDA is charged with the responsibility of bee health research and EPA reviews and registers pesticides.

As a result of these efforts, ARS’ Colony Collapse Disorder and Honeybee Health Steering Committee recently announced, “The Varroa Summit,” which is set for Riverdale, Md., in February. Scientists and stakeholders with significant knowledge about this pest will share insights, review research progress and discuss ideas for developing and implementing an effective Varroa mite management program. The Summit also will serve as a forum for building collaborative efforts to improve our understanding of what causes bee losses.

This event will be a timely and logical follow-up to the ARS Steering Committee’s National Stakeholders Meeting on Honey Bee Health held in late 2012. That meeting focused on the primary factors affecting honey bee health, including: nutrition, pesticides, pests/-pathogens, bee biology and colony management. The NCC was represented at that meeting and will be a participant at the February summit.

Mark Lange is the president and chief executive officer for the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.

 

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