Cavalier County buzzing about Bee Summit on July 7

The canola fields have been planted and are beginning to bloom which will bring the all to familiar drone of bees, a hot topic that many area producers and landowners are once again hoping will be addressed by the state. 

Republican

Posted on 7/4/15

By Melissa Anderson

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) is planning a Bee Summit on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. at the Langdon Research Extension Center.

The agenda, which was still being finalized at time of print, will include discussions on the new beekeeping law, the ND Pollinator Plan, as well as beekeeper/landowner relations and communication.

“Everyone is welcome to attend,” the NDDA said in a press release.

The summit has garnered a lot of attention from both farmers and landowners of Cavalier County and beekeepers who have apiaries in the area. For the past few years, Cavalier County has been a hot bed of contention in regards to honeybees and the regulations that the beekeepers must follow.

Three residents of the area traveled to Bismarck on behalf of many area producers and landowners to testify before the 2015 North Dakota State Legislative session. The trio went before both the House of Representatives and the Agriculture Committee concerning a proposed re-write of the beekeeping laws.

Those testimonies from Shauna Schneider, Dustin McGregor, and Kristie Sundeen had 10 points that the producers and landowners of Cavalier County and surrounding counties wanted addressed in the revised apiary and beekeeping law.

The representatives who went to the legislature seeking help in the form of proposed laws made it clear at the outset that what they were seeking was support from the state in dealing with the situation in Cavalier County.

“We were not there to try and eliminate the bee industry as some may have heard or read. We were there because we felt that the laws are one-sided and that the proposed bill was a step in the right direction for equal representation,” McGregor said.

The main points of the testimonies included a lack of support in dealing with beekeepers who were not cooperating with producers/landowners from the NDDA, the number of unregistered hives in Cavalier County that the NDDA did not seem to take seriously, signage with contact information for the responsible beekeeper at the entrance of apiary sites, and the need for written landowner permission for apiary locations.

Of these points that were brought to the Agricultural Committee, none were adopted. In fact, most of the century codes pertaining to beekeeping were stripped or revised.

The new beekeeping law goes into effect on August 1 of this year and will give the agriculture commissioner increased authority- “giving the state the power to fine, quarantine, seize, confiscate and dispose of beehives through enforcement”. The new law also clarifies language and provides the agriculture commissioner the authority to handle multiple species, in addition to Africanized honey bees, with necessary steps to ensure the safety and health of citizens and the industry.

According to the NDDA, the law change also provides stricter control of the beekeeping industry through a new standardized 3-digit identification number assigned by the agriculture commissioner and apiary signage with the beekeeper’s name and phone number visible upon approach of the apiary’s main entrance.

“All the beekeepers worked hand-in-hand with the apiary division on that,” Will Neissen, President of the ND Beekeepers Association said.

Many of the suggestions for revising the laws that came from those representatives of Cavalier County revolved around the NDDA enforcing the laws that were in place and levying heavier fines on those beekeepers who were in violation.

“The NDDA needs to be more supportive of the residents of North Dakota and follow the North Dakota Century Code instead of passing the buck and disregarding North Dakota law,” Schneider said in her testimony.

According to the NDDA, the department has stepped up their approach in the form of more outreach, education, compliance assistance and regulatory actions for non-compliant beekeepers.

“This was started as an effort to create partnerships statewide to assist communities with the growing number of bees, and the department’s commitment to increase oversight in response to the expanding industry,” Michelle Mielke, the Public Information Specialist at the NDDA, said.

For the beekeepers in the state and those who have apiary sites in Cavalier County and the surrounding area, the issues that these area producers and landowners are bringing up is baffling.

“The biggest problem is the effect of the out-of-state beekeepers. I don’t know why we have such a problem over there [Cavalier County],” Neissen said.

Neissen explained that as a lifelong beekeeper, he and many others in the state have operated for many years with very few problems and know that the beekeepers and their hives are guests of the landowners. Over the last few years, the issues in Cavalier County have left him stumped on how to fix it.

“We [the ND Beekeepers Association] have always had a verbal policy for policing ourselves. I don’t know any beekeepers over there and they don’t come to the meetings,” Neissen stated.

Neissen also defended the NDDA’s apiary program stating that they have indeed been cracking down on the beekeepers and making sure that the laws are being followed.

“With over 200 beekeepers in the state, Cavalier County is trying to dictate the whole state,” Neissen said.

A major contributing factor for the increasing number of new beekeepers to the state of North Dakota, according to Bob Morlock, the Northeast Director for the ND Beekeepers Association, is that there has been a severe drought in California for the last four years.

“A lot of these people stayed in their homestates making honey but now they are here just trying to keep their bees alive,” Morlock said.

Morlock also sited the decrease in CRP land in North Dakota, which he said used to be the predominant locations for apiaries.

Another reason for the increase in beekeepers is that there are no mile restriction laws mandating how far apart beekeepers sites must be from each other. Surrounding states such as South Dakota and Montana have mile restrictions of three miles between apiary sites.

Morlock explained that Cavalier County is one of the few places that has crops that produces honey, which is the reason it is a major draw for beekeepers. Morlock also clarified that the beekeeping industry is a very labor intense business that should be considered more of a lifestyle.

North Dakota is one of the few states that practices a free commerce approach in regards to the beekeeping industry. Compared to surrounding states that beekeepers use to help their bees recover from winters in the southern states like Texas and California. North Dakota is not only an economical choice but allows for a greater number with fewer restrictions for beekeepers to follow when compared to laws in South Dakota and Montana.

The honeybee industry has also seen a substantial increase in honeybee deaths. Beginning around 2006, otherwise healthy honeybee hives have suffered colony collapses, which occurs when a majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. This phenomenon has been called Colony Collapse Disorder and has been having a significant impact on the ability of honeybees and beekeepers alike in producing honey for market.

As the beekeepers are battling for a way of life, the residents of Cavalier County battle for a right to be heard on their concerns about the over concentration of honeybees.

“Years ago, I did not have much of a problem, but the number of sites has risen and the number of bees at each site is out of control to the point where it’s not safe. The overpopulation of bees and the issue of location of bees too close to farmsteads and roads has resulted in farmers being unable to work in their yards,” McGregor said.

Many do not have a problem with the honeybees until the middle of August rolls around and it’s harvest time. The lack of fresh food and water makes the otherwise dociles bees more aggressive and easily agitated. This aggression causes havoc with farmers trying to harvest their canola crop and work in their fields and around grain bins.

“We can’t farm our land properly because of the bees, which hinders yield and promotes disease. I don’t feel this is fair and quite frankly, I don’t need bees to pollinate my crop. My crops are self-pollinating,” Schneider said.

With 350,000 acres of farmland and about 100 percent of the canola planted being a hybrid that self-pollinates, the argument that the bees are helping the farmers crops is a daunting task to prove.

Several studies have been conducted over the years to do just that and while these studies have been able to show improvement in canola yield the range of improvement from study to study is vast with one study finding only a 13 percent increase and another up to 50 percent. Of these studies, very few have focused on self-pollinating canola and in those studies researchers only found a 15 percent increase in yield.

One study also identified a behavior called “thieving” in which the honeybee does not actually pollinate the flower of the canola plant but instead takes the nectar that drips from the stem, thereby not assisting in the yield.

While the studies may show that honeybees could be a benefit to the canola growers, the headache and hassle of having the bees around does not seem to compensate for the decrease in quality of life.

“There is a lack of respect from beekeepers utilizing our crops to get an end product, and we have to deal with the hassle of their bees,” Sundeen stated.

The breakdown in communication between landowners and beekeepers has reached a fever pitch. The situation in Cavalier County and the surrounding areas, where canola and soybeans is a dominant crop, has reached a point where many landowners and producers are saying that honeybees will no longer be welcome on their properties.

“I’m a ag producer, and I should have the same rights as the beekeeper. As a beekeeper, you do not own the property, and you should have to work with us at some point,” Sundeen stated.

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