By Kathy Keatley Garvey
On a day too cold for honey bees to fly and nearly too cold for bundled dignitaries to speak, officials celebrated the opening of the newly constructed USDA-ARS bee research facility on Bee Biology Road on the UC Davis campus.
Queen bee breeder Jackie Park-Burris, a past president of the California State Beekeepers’ Association and a leader in the industry, snipped the ribbon in 45-degree temperature, joining a group of other stakeholders to open the facility.
“This is the only USDA bee research team in California — where the action is,” said emcee Paul Pratt, research leader of the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Lab. USDA maintains honey bee research facilities in Tucson, Ariz.; Beltsville, Md.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Stoneville, Miss.
“The opening of the USDA-ARS bee lab marks a new opportunity for USDA and UC Davis entomologists to collaborate and investigate serious problems that affect stakeholders,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “We are very fortunate that the lab was built at UC Davis.”
Park-Burris, of Jackie Park-Burris Queens, Palo Cedro — her family has worked with UC Davis researchers for more than 80 years — cut the ribbon with four other stakeholders: almond pollination consultant Robert Curtis of Carmichael, former director and associate director (now retired) of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California; Kevin Adee of Bruce, S.D., president of the American Honey Producers’ Association; Brad Pankratz of Can-Am Apiaries, Orland; and Darren Cox of Cox Honey Farms, Logan, Utah, a past president of the American Honey Producers’ Association.
Pratt introduced newly hired research entomologists, Arathi Seshadri and Julia Fine, forming the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Unit at Davis. They are dedicated toward developing technology that improves colony survivorship through long-term studies of multiple stress factors, he said. “They will develop and transfer integrated biologically based approaches for the management of invasive species and the improvement of pollinator health.”
Seshadri and Fine aim to improve honey bee survival and beekeeping sustainability in California and nationwide, Pratt said. They will collaborate with federal, university, non-governmental and industry partners.
‘We are grateful’
In her talk, Park-Burris said that the “California State Beekeepers’ Association is overwhelmed that we have a USDA lab to collaborate with our UC Davis lab. We hope there’s a lot of collaboration going on. We really look forward to that. As a stakeholder, my family has been raising queens just north of here (Palo Cedro) for over 80 years. Dr. Laidlaw had worked with my uncle and my father. He’s been at my house. And he’s been through my bees. Julia (Fine) has even already been up to see the queen farm.”
“The queen bee breeding industry could definitely use you guys,” Park-Burris continued. “California has all the issues because everybody comes here. …it’s very important that we have this lab here and how grateful we are that you have all gone to the work to make this happen.”
“We look forward to solving some of our problems — varroa, varroa, varroa — and forage and pesticide interaction,” Park-Burris said, “and all that happens in California during the largest pollinator event in the world. So you’re in a good place and we’re grateful.”
UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen later commented: “I think that the collaboration among the new USDA bee lab personnel, cooperating researchers, and beekeepers should provide an opportunity to probe deeply into potential causes of colony loss. The ability to follow the health of individual bees and colonies, throughout the year, should provide important clues about precursors of colony decline, well in advance of the ultimate collapse.”