At Ponte Vedra Conference, Interest In Beekeeping Rises As Population Dwindles

Jan 6, 2016

Albert Chubak's carving is on display at the Sawgrass Marriott during the annual American Beekeepers Federation conference on Wednesday.
Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News

Ponte Vedra Beach was abuzz with convention-goers Wednesday at the American Beekeeping Federation’s annual conference.

Organizers say they’ve expanded as interest in beekeeping has risen in recent years. But as more people want to raise them, the world’s bee population is shrinking.


Wednesday morning at the Sawgrass Marriott, beekeepers from around the country made their way through a maze of booths touting one invention or another.

Incoming president of the growing group, Gene Brandi, says close to 1,000 people registered for the conference this year.

“It’s really like a family reunion in a lot of respects, although there’s new people who come every year, especially in recent years, with the increased popularity of beekeeping,” he says.

But new bee enthusiasts may soon not have many pollinators to ogle over.

University of Minnesota bee researcher Marla Spivak studies how bees defend themselves and their colonies from threats like illness. And right now, she says, they’re having a hard time staying healthy.

“Breaks my heart, really,” Spivak says. “They have these parasitic mites that are really problematic and hard to control. They have viruses and other diseases.”

Sometimes pesticides are the only way to kill the parasites, but Spivak says that’s not good either — the chemicals are a major reason bees are dying worldwide. So some of the conference’s panels are focused on finding a safe way to rid bees of the parasites without using pesticides.

The federation supports the federal Environmental Protection Agency's pollinator-protection efforts in hopes of finding a sustainable solution.

At the conference, EPA representatives released preliminary findings on a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Environmental officials found they can be harmful to honeybees, especially while bee-friendly plants are in bloom.

The agency is set to continue its research into the use and efficacy of pesticides and has collected thousands of public comments since announcing a pollinator-protection plan last summer. It could be another year before the EPA issues a final report on all neonicotinoids.

Meanwhile, some environmentalists say that process isn't fast enough, and beekeepers in other states, like Minnesota, are challenging the federal government’s decision to allow the use of pesticides it’s previously deemed safe.