Working Together on Pollinator Health – Five Years On.
The Bayer Bee Care Centers were established in Europe and North America to promote and protect pollinator health. Now, five years after the first Bayer Bee Care Center officially opened in 2012, it’s a good time to look back and reflect on where we have come from and take a look at what lies ahead for Bayer with regard to pollinator health.
In setting up the Bee Care Centers, the aim was to provide a platform that would enable us to proactively reach out to various stakeholder groups – including industry partners, scientists, farmers, beekeepers, governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the food value chain. And that is exactly what the centers have allowed for, facilitating the exchange of knowledge and experiences and giving the opportunity to address questions and concerns, offer transparency on our activities and seek opportunities to cooperate in the area of pollinator health via collaborations or partnerships. This has resulted in ways to optimize bee protection and crop protection at the same time, like for instance the ‘dropleg’ technology, modified spray machinery that applies pesticide underneath the crop flowering canopy instead of on top. Or a research project in melons in Northeastern Brazil, looking at how bee health can, in a very practical way, help increase farmers’ profitability.
These are just two examples of the many collaborations we have established in the last few years. Our Bee Care science program will soon comprise more than 30 research projects with scientists at universities and research centers as well as beekeeper organizations around the world. These address some of the main threats and opportunities for pollinators and pollination and require a tailor-made approach corresponding to local and regional differences. As such, these projects look at pollinator ecology, honey bee health, crop pollination efficiency and the safety of pesticides to pollinators.
One challenge facing many pollinating insects is the need for sufficient, specific foraging habitat to provide nectar and pollen sources throughout the year. Our first foraging habitat project was in Oberrheingraben, Germany, to see if ecological enhancement measures would benefit wild bee and butterfly diversity. This was followed by a specific Feed a Bee initiative to create forage areas with a diversity of bee-attractant plants for honey bees, which started in the USA in 2015. In the USA today, we have distributed seed to more than 250,000 consumers, to plant more than three billion flowers, and are collaborating with more than 130 agricultural, university, non-profit and other organizations and businesses to provide an abundant diversity of forage for bees and to help in bee forage research and education efforts. In the meantime, we also have Feed a Bee projects running in Japan, Germany, Australia and New Zealand to promote the planting of foraging habitat.
Honey bees are still one of the most important pollinators around the world and we are clearly focused on addressing the specific challenges they face through our activities. These include projects such as monitoring of bee health and influencing factors in Central Chile, together with the Fraunhofer Chile Research Foundation, which revealed that a lot can be gained by improving apiary management and beekeeping practices. Or Healthy Hives 2020 USA initiative, provides up to 1 million US dollars in support and is currently funding ten innovative research projects aimed to improve honey bee health. Pests and diseases are key factors affecting honey bee health, not least the Varroa mite which transmits viruses, causing diseases that can prove deadly to colonies. That is why we are actively searching for ways to support beekeepers in Varroa control.
Looking forward, through the Bee Care Program and Center activities, Bayer will contribute further, with research into alternative pollinators for agricultural crops and optimization of crop pollination to improve crop quality and increase yields. We will also continue searching for ways to combat the Varroa mite, either by control measures or via breeding Varroa-resistant bees. And, we will be keeping an eye on upcoming honey bee threats such as the Small hive beetle, Asian hornet and pathogens, such as Nosema.
I cannot emphasize enough our sustainable commitment with regards to enhancing pollinator health or how important collaboration is in helping us achieve this. As such, the Bayer Bee Care Centers play a key role in enabling this to happen.