Beekeepers are struggling to protect their hives from the pesticides being used to combat citrus greening.
Citrus greening is the common name for Huanglongbing, a bacterial disease in citrus trees spread by an insect known as the Asian citrus psyllid, or jumping plant louse. A tree infected with citrus greening produces bitter, hard fruit that is unsellable in the citrus industry.
One way to fight this disease is a quick introduction of pesticides. But this can have the unintended effect of killing nearby pollinating bees.
In January, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services launched a mapping system to open communication between Florida’s citrus and beekeeping (apiary) industries.
The geographic information system map, known as the Florida Apiary/Citrus Industry Link, shows participating beekeepers’ relative hive locations and nearby groves in relation to the hives.
Mario Jakob, a commercial beekeeper and owner of D & J Apiary in Umatilla, said the map was partially based on one he made with his citrus partner, Hunt Brothers Cooperative.
Jakob said he and his grower created the map by marking locations of hives and detailing where the next spraying would occur.
Jakob said it was a bit of a headache on his part, including nightly calls and moving his bees at a moment’s notice, but he said open communication and knowing whom you work with is the most important thing for beekeepers in citrus groves.
“It worked out,” Jakob said. “I didn’t lose any bees, and he got his groves sprayed.”
Citrus Health Management Areas, a grouping of commercial citrus groves, are helping with the mapping. They coordinate a mass blanket of pesticide spraying between nearby citrus groves, which reduces the spread of citrus greening.
However, registration for the map has been slow. More than 2,600 beekeepers, including hobbyists and commercial beekeepers, are registered in Florida, according to the Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection’s records.
Only seventeen Florida beekeepers have registered their hives in 108 locations, said Denise Feiber, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry.
Hive locations are often considered trade secrets, passed down from previous generations. Jakob’s land, which is registered with the Florida Apiary/Citrus Industry Link, has been in his family for more than 30 years.
Liana Teigen, owner of Teigen Honey in Gainesville, said a lot of beekeepers “squat” and put their bees next to someone else’s property without warning. Teigen is also a technician in the University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab’s Bee Informed Partnership.
“Beekeepers are very competitive,” Teigen said. ”You don’t want everyone knowing.”
Squatters and northern beekeepers, who migrate to Florida in the winter, do not have their hive locations registered on the map and are not notified of spraying, which could kill entire colonies.
Teigen said for many beekeepers, there is not much else to do besides move their bees. Many north central Florida beekeepers have had to relocate their colonies further south, such as to Polk County, because of citrus greening.
Teigen is now relying on Polk County citrus groves to help produce one of her biggest batches of honey a year.
Lee Albritton, commercial beekeeper and owner of Lee’s Bees based out of Alachua, has colonies in Polk, Highlands and Hardee Counties. He said spraying caused him to change his habits, including not going into the groves until the process is over because of safety reasons.
“We ended up with a lot of bees killed every week, it seemed, for about three weeks or so,” Albritton said about last year’s season. “That could be as many as 45 million bees.”
The relationship between the two industries is not mutually beneficial. Citrus growers do not depend on bees for pollinating as much as beekeepers rely on citrus trees for pollen. Very few citrus trees, such as tangerine and tangelo trees, are believed to benefit from bees, Albritton said.
Feiber said that the department wants to open communication, and the mapping services are enabling a dialogue.
“Both industries are essential to the success of Florida agriculture, and we’re going to do everything that we can to ensure that those remain successful,” Feiber said.