USDA: Louisiana's Bees Are On The Rebound

ALEXANDRIA, LA (AP) — There are some good signs indicating that Louisiana's bee population is rebounding, according to federal bee experts.

         The Daily Town Talk’s Courtney Spradlin reports that a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report on honey shows production is up.

         The USDA reports production is up 19 percent year over year — a good sign after lengthy periods of decline in honeybee colonies. The number of managed colonies has been slashed in half since a peak in the 1940s, according to the USDA, due to predatory pests and diseases that have ravaged the non-native insects.

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         Producing colonies have decreased about 4 percent in Louisiana, March data shows, but colonies were up in number about 22 percent from 2013.

         The state of bees in Louisiana remains favorable, according to Thomas Rinderer, head researcher at the USDA's Baton Rouge Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research.

         He says the weather, good beekeeping practices and the state's agricultural systems have helped.

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         But an issue that continues to pester beekeepers is the Verroa destructor, a parasitic mite that first devastated feral and managed bee colonies in the 1980s.

         In recent decades several methods were developed to keep the bug in check, though no one can eliminate it altogether.

         "It's hard to kill a bug on a bug," said David Matlock, a juvenile court judge in Shreveport who manages a small beekeeping business in his free time with Chuck Pourciau, the senior pastor of Broadmoor Baptist.

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         The two started CapLock Honey two years ago, selling "treatment-free" raw honey, hives and queens. The two also remove bee infestations humanely from houses, trees and other structures.

         Matlock and Pourciau take a naturalistic approach to their hobby, which is not lucrative but has in two years begun to pay for itself. They are proponents of the treatment-free method of rearing bees, though the honey yield is lower and their practice is still in theory.

         The method has sustained their growing colonies so far, which are 15 in number and with low mortality, Matlock said.

         Randy Fair, a commercial beekeeper whose livelihood is selling honey, treats his bees to protect them from predatory bugs and diseases. Without the treatments and antibiotics, Fair said his average losses are expected to be 30 to 50 percent rather than the current 10 to 15.

         He has a large operation of about 400 colonies just outside of Mansfield at his farm, Clear Lake Apiary.

         Half are in production, yielding an average of 150 pounds of honey per colony. He sells to commercial retailers and from his home.

         "In my opinion, treatment is the way to go if you have a large operation. There are those that would argue otherwise," Fair said.

         Rinderer said beekeepers should be vigilant against threats such as the Varroa mite and make treatments if necessary, or perhaps keep resistant bees to aid their efforts.

         The Baton Rouge lab started releasing a Russian breed of Varroa resistant bees 10 years ago to combat the severity of the Varroa mite's impact.

         Rinderer said the state's success with bees also can be attributed to this resistant strain, which is commercially available for any beekeeping operation or hobbyist.

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