North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring was present along with several members of the North Department of Agriculture (NDDA) at the Bee Summit held on July 7 at the Langdon Research Extension Center.
Posted on 7/11/15
By Melissa Anderson
A diverse crowd of beekeepers, farmers, landowners, and agricultural industry members gathered to hear updates from the NDDA and what would be done moving forward regarding the handling of the honeybee industry in ND and specifically Cavalier County.
The discussion began with the new bee law that will be taking effect on August 1. Many local producers, landowners, and residents wondered how Goehring would enforce this new law when it seemed that the old law was not enforced.
“I give people the opportunity to realize they are breaking the law and if they are rebellious and defiant, then we come down with a heavy hand. If it means driving some people out of the state-so be it,” Goehring said.
Goehring allowed the audience to partake in open discussion to air their concerns and grievances. Goehring, himself handled many of the questions and complaints that were posed.
The discussion ranged from producer/landowner’s point of view asking why the beekeepers seemed to be so resistant to posting signage at the entrance to apiaries and their annoyance with how the Department of Agriculture has been handling the situation in Cavalier County.
Many of the grievances fielded by Goehring dealt with the complaint process and what appeared to be lack of communication and execution of the law on the part of State Bee Inspector Samantha Brunner.
Goehring admitted that in years prior to the hiring of Brunner, there had been a lack of action. This is now being addressed by Brunner and Deputy Commissioner Tom Bodine.
“Let’s continue to have a conversation and we will step up and continue to step up and deal with this,” Goehring stated.
Another topic that the local producers raised was the issue of who is liable should a bee sting occur on their land. Kristie Sundeen, a producer in Cavalier County, stated that many landowners don’t realize that by having the bees on their land they hold the liability should anything occur. Those that are aware of the laiblity may refuse to sign contracts with beekeepers so that should anything happen they can recant that they gave permission.
Bonnie Woodworth, the Director at Large for the North Dakota Beekeepers Association, stated that beekeepers do carry liability insurance and that some do offer liability waivers to landowners who give permission to have bees on their land.
The discussion turned to how the tension between the beekeepers and landowners in the area could be decreased. It was pointed out by the beekeepers that there is a benefit to the producers and landowners that grow canola to have the honeybees as the bees can increase the yield. Many producers and landowners responded that the quality of life is more important to them than increasing their bottom line.
“We know canola, as a forage, can handle a lot of bees but the people cannot. We can’t handle anymore bees moving into this area,” Sundeen stated.
The area producers and landowners remarked that if beekeepers waited to bring their honeybees until just before bloom and then try to get them out by middle of August-it would virtually eliminate all the problems. Instead, beekeepers use North Dakota as a holding area for the bees, the reason for much of the problems. Since canola only blooms for one month, this leaves the honeybees with nothing to pollinate once that crop has gone to seed.
“We farmers don’t need you with the crops that we have today, you need us,” Mark Schneider, a landowner in Cavalier County said.
Woodworth stated that the reason there are so many more bees in ND than ever before is a result of the drought in California which is causing beekeepers to struggle to find an area to just keep their bees alive. Woodworth suggested if the restrictive laws for beekeeping in Montana and South Dakota were relaxed then North Dakota would not be inundated with honeybees.
Another suggestion from Woodworth to the local producers was to grow something other than canola or to grow less canola in Cavalier County and the surrounding area.
“We grow what can make us money. We cannot grow anything else,” Sundeen stated in response to the suggestion.
The discussion then turned to what can be done locally or if the state will be stepping up their activity and fines.
“The fines have been increasing and have been starting at $3,000 and going up from there. We will respond when you call us and we will come up here. We have taken action on unregistered locations and when there is not landowner permission,” Deptuy Commissioner Tom Bodine stated.
“If we are falling short, call me,” Goehring added.
Jim Gray, the District Director for NDSU Extension Services offered the services of the extension service by offering seminars and facilitators to help those beekeepers and landowners/producers present work together.
“The extension has trained facilitators and will work with local people to build relationships and find ways to coexist and find ways to have solutions,” Gray said.
The audience was in agreement that with more meetings and chances to air their concerns to one another with a neutral party present who understood both sides would be beneficial.
“I think it went fairly well. There is a lot of tension up here. There are a lot of concerns. We just had such a breakdown in communication and so much tension that it’s gotten to a point that people are finally realizing a little bit from someone else perspective what some of their concerns are,” Goehring said after the meeting.
Moving forward, Goehring will be holding a more personal interest in this issue as the NDDA holds meetings with beekeepers and producers. Communication will be key between the two groups. Goehring will also make sure that complaints are dealt with in a timely manner.
“If you register a complaint with my office, I want it dealt with. If I find out it hasn’t been I want to know why and I’ll check into it,” Goehring said.
Goehring apologized for the mishandling of the situation over the past few years. From this point forward, Goehring will be holding his staff accountable for how to deal with these things. When the new rules regarding the beekeeping industry go into effect, the NDDA will be stepping up and doing more to insure the rules are followed.
“It’s all about communication and relationships,” Goehring stated.