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Beekeepers Raising Money For International Bee-Research Lab At UF

Jessica Palombo

A state-of-the-art, international bee-research lab could be coming to Gainesville if Florida beekeepers raise enough money.

Last month, Governor Rick Scott OK’d $2 million for bee research, and the University of Florida is covering some of the cost—but it all kicks in only if beekeepers raise $200,000 of their own.

Scientists hope the lab will help save our food supply by fighting threats killing off huge numbers of honeybees.

One recent morning,  at the CGQ ranch in Callahan, about a half-hour northwest of Jacksonville, fifth-generation Florida farmer Curtiss Quarrier was looking at his bees. They were buzzing around wooden boxes with rows of honeycomb-covered slats.

Quarrier makes and sells wild flower honey from about 100 hives that each hold more than 50,000 winged pollinators. He sells mostly to wholesalers but also sells bottles to people in his community.

He’s one of a growing number of hobbyist beekeepers, folks who are helping keep the population of honeybees from shrinking so quickly.

University of Florida Professor Jamie Ellis says, “We certainly, absolutely, certainly need more beekeepers, and so this trend has really helped.”

Bees on wooden slats
Credit Jessica Palombo / WJCT News
Curtiss Quarrier's bees work to make wild flower honey.

Ellis oversees a roughly 25-person bee research team at the University of Florida. But despite that positive note, Ellis says bees are in trouble, as several factors have killed off 30 percent of their colonies worldwide over the last decade. And when bees are in trouble, we are too.

“They spread pollen from flower to flower, which results in fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries for us,” he says. “So when we have these significant declines in honeybee numbers, clearly it’s a significant issue for all of us because bees are so important to our ecosystem and to our own food supply.”

He says roughly a quarter of the food we eat can be traced back to the efforts of bees. That’s why he’s been asking for a bigger, better lab at UF. Gov. Scott has vetoed the money for it before, but this year it got past his desk.             

“Part of the reason for the push for this new bee lab is to be able to create the infrastructure necessary to do the type of research that is needed to reduce these colony-loss rates,” Ellis says.

And not just by his team, buy by visiting scientists from around the globe. He wants to expand research on the top five threats to bee survival:

  1. Pests, including beetles
  2. Pathogens, like viruses and bacteria
  3. Poor nutrition
  4. Pesticides
  5. A particularly nasty pest called the varroa mite, which pierces a bee’s shell and can leave it with a virus that causes deformed wings

Beekeeper Curtiss Quarrier says he’s excited about the possibilities if the Florida State Beekeepers Association can raise the $200,000 needed to build the lab.

“The research down in Gainesville is going to benefit all beekeepers, whether they know it or not,” he says.

The Beekeepers Association hopes would-be donors agree, and help fill their pot with money. They’re about to launch a marketing effort to spread the word.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP