Mississippi’s beekeepers have caught a break from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after going nearly half a year without access to a primary miticide to combat varroa mite infestations, the biggest threat to honeybee colonies.
Use of BetaTec Hop Products’ HopGuard II requires a federal exemption from Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce applied for the exemption in January and did not receive the waiver approval until late April. State agriculture officials can seek the exemptions if significant losses of an agricultural commodity are likely.
This exemption for HopGuard II expires Dec. 31. John Campbell, director of the ag department’s Bureau of Plant Industry, said the state will seek to avoid another gap in HopGuard II access by filing this summer for an exemption to follow the one that expires Dec. 31.
Section 18 emergency exemptions require that the state show an emergency is occurring. ”They take considerable work to get,” Campbell said.
The makers of HopGuard II, considered the most effective and safe miticide available, had been prohibited from shipping the product into the state, according to Campbell.
The agriculture official said it is hoped the EPA will grant full approval for HopGuard and HopGuard II, thus making requests for new exemptions unnecessary.
He said the state’s honeybee industry has been under much duress for about the last four years. The arrival of HopGuard II on the market has helped significantly to prevent the spread of varroa mite infestations.
The mites have built up immunities to earlier miticides. And still other miticides pose risks to the cones. All of which means, said Campbell, “there are very few products to use.”
HopGuard II uses cardboard strips treated with potassium salt of hop beta acids to control varroa mite infestations. The strips are inserted into honeybee colonies or packages of adult worker bees before they are installed in a honeybee colony.
The varroa mite is a honeybee parasite that feeds on adult bees and developing broods. If left untreated, varroa mites can lead to deformation of bees and potential loss of the entire colony affected, state ag officials say.
HopGuard II is the first pesticide to be dropped directly into the colony, according to Jeff Harris, honeybee specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Unlike earlier products, HopGuard and HopGuard II are soft chemicals that don’t contaminate the cones, Harris noted.
The miticide is the most effective and safe product currently available for protecting honeybee colonies, Harris said. “We are a small industry. It’s hard to get products made for us.”
Although Mississippi has only a handful of commercial beekeepers who typically keep from 3,000 to 4,000 colonies each, the state is a national leader in production of honey, at about 98 pounds per colony. “It is because of soybeans,” Harris said, citing the late May to fall growing season for the row crop.
“They bloom in the part of the year there is nothing else to forage on” for the honeybees, he noted.
Detailing the history of the varroa mite in the United States, Harris said he first encountered the mite in Louisiana in 1982 and believes it came to the United States from Eastern Russia through infesting colonies of Western Honeybees cultivated there.
The Western Honeybees’ counterpart – the Eastern Honeybee prevalent in Asia – had grown immune to the varroa mite. Once they jumped ship onto Western Honeybees colonies around the world, “We began seeing declining colonies worldwide,” Harris said.
“When you ask what is the Number One threat to honeybees worldwide, it is the varroa mite,” he noted. “The mite reproduces in the colonies and feeds on the pupa of the honeybee. As the baby bees infected by the mites grow up, they carry viruses, Harris explained.
“We believe the viruses from the mites are killing the bees.”
The most vulnerable are the baby bees that have the virus. They show shriveled and deformed wings, “and a host of other problems,” Harris said. “When you have bees with deformed wings, that is a good indicator that your colony is very sick.”
While HopGuard and HopGuard II are safe and effective, the varro mites eventually will become immune to them and a new miticide must be developed, Harris said.