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Protecting pollinators

By Staff | Apr 19, 2015

-Farm News photo by Jolene Stevens THE IOWA HONEY PRODUCERS’ Mike C. Divis, left, a presenter at the March 27 Siouxland Garden Show, joins Becky Davis, of Loess Hills Honey Co., in a discussion on beekeeping and the need to protect the honey bee as a pollinator for agriculture and gardens.

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SIOUX CITY – The nation’s dwindling honey bee population is responsible for providing $15 billion in increased farm crop values, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mike Divis, a board member of the Iowa Honey Producers, in District 6, said he has grave concerns of the falling numbers.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how concerned I am about the drop in the number of the honeybee,” Divis said, who was a presenter at the Siouxland Garden Show in Sioux City Convention Center.

The event was sponsored by the Iowa, Nebraska and Woodbury County (Iowa) and Dakota County (Nebraska) Extension services.

The problems

Divis, a former beekeeper and owner of Loess Hills Honey Co., in Anthon, and is now a minister for Madrid Church of Christ, in Madrid.

“The situation as I see it goes way beyond the honey bees,” he said. “I believe the bees are like the canary in the coal mine.

“We’re faced with a real challenge as research in other areas also question reported high incidents of cancer in the Midwestern part of the U.S..

“The very reason we’re struggling with health issues like these may very well go back to the same reason we’re seeing the problems we are today in our honey bees.”

Divis said the Midwest is struggling with all of its pollinators, including the Monarch butterfly, which is also declining in numbers.

“Our changes in agriculture not only with the chemicals including glyphosate being used, but with GMO crops being planted in our fields are, I believe, making it a difficult situation for our honey bees.

“Our pollinators are not only being exposed to a lot of different chemicals that are causing a problem for them, but they are having a difficult time finding surface areas to forage for nectar and pollen.

“Adding, too, to the problems is the loss of bee habitat due to aggressive farming practices.”

Some solutions

Divis said he is optimistic that dwindling bee numbers can be stopped.

“Honey bees are amazing,” he said. “We’re seeing them adapting to things you never even imagined they’d adapt to.

“It will just take a little time for them to be exposed to these things over a period of time. I believe they can evolve and be able to handle the things they have been and are being exposed to in our culture.

He said state lawmakers can help but also sees farmers becoming more aware of how their crop practices affect pollinators.

“Farmers are showing an increased awareness of the correct handling of chemicals that’s supportive on behalf of the bee,” he said.

Family gardeners in rural areas and their urban counterparts also have reason to protect their pollinators, Divis said.

“I try to encourage as many people as possible to have a hive or two of honey bees in their backyards,” he said. “This can not only help these individuals, but can also provide the pollinators we need in our communities.

“Bees are a lot of fun and fascinating if you know how to work with them and how to handle them. Unless someone has a severe allergy to bees, the bees are not the threat everybody thinks they are.”

He said those with a fear of being stung, should consider the occasional sting as worth the protection of pollinators.

Another option, Divis said, is introducing Mason bees to a backyard or garden setting.

The Mason bee, while a non-honey producer, is an effective pollinator. It lays eggs in natural cavities – woodpecker and insect holes and hollow stems.

It adapts to artificial cavities – wood with drilled holes, cardboard tubes or paper straws.

Still another option, he said, is the native bee with more than 4,000 species in the U.S. Another non-honey maker, these bees have advantages over honey bees – they are solitary, living independently from hives.

According to USDA resources, this makes the native been less susceptible to disease and pests. A non-hive bee, they are less affected by agricultural patterns.

It was in the late 1990s Davis said, that be began working part-time for a bee keeper to help support his family while serving a small church in Sioux City.

“This was where I learned the love of bees,” he said and would later in 2000 begin packing his first honey products.

He started Loess Hills Honey, in Sioux City, a honey packing operation, in 2010. It was sold in June 2014 to Becky Davis, of Sioux City.

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