POISED AS it is to enjoy serious commercial benefits from the exportation of bees, having seen a doubling of the number of hives over the past three years, the local bee industry is facing a threat from two sources - the small hive beetle and varroa mite.
In fact, dealing effectively with these pests will require a new approach to bee-keeping practices, according to Reginald Peddie, chief apiculture officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
He told The Gleaner: "We have not yet come to grips with the whole management practices associated with the small hive beetle and we are still in a teething process. We are developing some traps which will be used in an integrated pest management system to deal with it."
"We have been trying to get bee-keepers to change some of the ancient practices of bee-keeping because now that we have a new threat to the industry we can no longer do them and be comfortable because this will create a better environment for the development of permanent establishment of the small hive beetle," Peddie added.
Meanwhile, there is evidence to suggest that the varroa mite is developing some resistance to Apistan, a miticide approved for use in beehives - due to overuse. Peddie explained that even though the ministry had also approved the use of Apiguard, a more organic substance, because of the more tedious application process over the years farmers have stuck with Apistan.
"We are now seeing the results of that which are most negative," he told The Gleaner during the recent Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show.
With a serious demand for bees, moreso queen bees, in North America, Jamaica which saw its hive count moving from 15,000 in 2008 to 42,000 should be well poised to supply this growing need. With last year's honey production estimated at 221,000 gallons islandwide, barring natural disaster, the country could be in for a bumper crop next season.
However, veteran bee-keeper Andrew Sperlich is more concerned about the potential impact of the small hive beetle and is working to stop it in its tracks. Having made modifications to an Australian designed trap he launched at Denbigh, he is promoting an integrated pest management programme using cooking oil as the trapping agent. This approach is in keeping with the aim of avoiding caustic insecticides. This launch followed eight months of testing, with the Ministry of Agriculture undertaking an evaluation of its effectiveness, but Sperlich, who is based in Adelphi, St James, is confident about its effectiveness and the urgency of getting it out to bee farmers.
He told The Gleaner: "A dozen or so beetles in a box, a full-sized colony will cause the box to become stagnant and even start to lose ground and die. It starts by eating the eggs and then the beetle defecates on the pollen and the honey and on the frame which causes the meltdown and the whole hive kind of just melts into a big soup on the bottom of the box.
"As long as we have the beetle controlled, we are open for a permit for exporting bees. The orders go from 4,000 queens to 27,000-30,000 queens yearly. The last going price for a queen was J$1,200."
Trying to remove the beetles manually is impractical since it can take a bee-keeper up to an hour to go through each box, while using the trap is environmentally friendly and it can also trap other pests.