The ECWBA BLOG editor asked me to write a few words about the “Future of Beekeeping” breakout session at the Marathon County Beekeepers seminar last Saturday, but frankly, I’d rather not because what I heard was very disturbing to me. I had hoped to hear about an improved environment with large swaths of pollinator forage planted among the monoculture crops, improved genetics through selective breeding programs, and a decrease in pesticide use, particularly the neonics. But there was no talk about improved nutritional conditions or a decrease in pesticide use.
The speaker started his talk about a commercial honey producer that states he is not a beekeeper. He is a honey producer. This honey producer purchases all new bees every year, and has a special bee shredder to blow the bees into after his pollination contracts are fulfilled for the season. He doesn’t want to be bothered with trying to keep bees alive over winter. Pollination + honey = profit. What ran through my mind was the hope that there would be a shredder for him when his productive days were at an end. I pretty much stopped listening at that point.
I did tune in when he talked about artificial insemination because that’s going on today in order to maintain “pure”, and to develop “improved”, strains of bees with natural bee genetics. (My first queen was “Joe Latshaw” Carniolan.) Pure Carniolan, or Russian, or Italian semen injected into a pure queen of the same race, or cross-breeding to bring desirable natural traits forward (VSH, Ankle Biter, etc.), I’m okay with that. But when the trail headed into genetic engineering and modification to make designer bees, I checked out again. (I have read articles about Bayer and Monsanto attempting to design a GMO honey bee that’s “Round-up Ready”.) I am totally against unnatural tinkering with life forms of every kind. Obviously some people think that’s great, I’m not in that camp and pretty sure I never will be.
The next thing was a talk about overwintering bees in caverns and caves. He had explored a 17 mile long cavern and somewhere in there found the “perfect spot” with a consistent “perfect” temperature for the bees to overwinter. Not too hot, not too cold, just right. But it was a bit low on oxygen so fans were installed to bring more oxygen to the area. BUT, how did they know it was “just right” and low on oxygen? Sensors! Hundreds of micro sensors in every hive. Keep the temperature right, the oxygen right, the humidity right, the amount of food right……….what could go wrong?
So keeping bees in a cavern for the winter might be all right, and I was sort of okay with what he was talking about, until he started bringing out the orange blossom honey bees because it was time for oranges, and the almond blossom honey bees because it was time for almonds, etc. Designer bees for highest efficiency and profit, genetically modified to withstand the chemicals they’ll encounter, overwintering in environmentally controlled conditions. (And a shredder in case something does go wrong!) Utopia!
These were computer generated models about where technology is heading. I hope to be hanging out with Brother Adam in the big apiary in the sky when that day arrives. I enjoy and plan to stay a beekeeper, not a bee farmer, not a honey producer. I went back to my home apiary and watched the bees for awhile on Sunday. I enjoyed watching them come and go and being the natural honey bees that they are today after 40 million years of adapting to the natural world. That may all change as Man decides that Man knows how bees should be and creates the technology to make it so.
EDITORS NOTE: Gerard, Thanks for the report. any similar opinions were expressed by the seminar attendees.