CSBA 2016 conference cover

In the middle of a really warm week in San Diego, CA, the American beekeeping elite gathered for the annual California State Beekeepers’ Association conference. Ivan, our CEO and co-founder, was excited to be there and take part in that incredible event. Here is his brief account of the conference:

Day 1 (Nov. 15, 2016):

Mites, mites, mites! This was a dominant theme across all days of the conference. But we were prepared. It was no surprise that mites were taking center stage, after all they disrupted the industry like no other parasite ever did before. The atmosphere at the Kona Kai Resort in San Diego was enthusiastic. All the beekeepers were happy to be among friends and hopeful of what they would learn here about the latest news in bee research, management practices and the future of the industry.

At 10:30am Jim Tew, PhD, a longtime beekeeper, scientist, and an expert in the field kicked off the first keynote for the day on the topic of “The Parallel Universes of Bees and Beekeepers.” Full of humor, personal stories, and experience, Jim delivered an important message: bees don’t live in the same world that they used to live in, and beekeepers today are not the beekeepers of the past.

We are seeing a rapid change in the beekeeping industry and this change requires a paradigm shift of the definition of beekeeping. Such monumental changes in an industry are prompted when traditional methodologies face great challenges. History has always been a combination of changing mindset and technological innovation. While in San Diego, although everyone exerted a sense of confidence, one could feel some sort of undefined anxiousness that was subtle, but present. The beekeeping industry is on the verge of a change: evolving to meet the modern challenges and adapt to the digital age and modern agriculture. Beekeepers and traditional beekeeping families are yet to be convinced in the benefits of technology. They need more time and data as a proof that there is a brave new world for beekeepers out there and that whatever worked 30 years ago, will not work in the next 30 years. John Miller would reiterate that same point at the end of Day 3, but we will get to that in a bit. While we want to see a rapid adoption of new technology and we want to serve the industry as best we can, we know it won’t happen without working hands in hands with all beekeepers to help them realize the potential of remote hive monitoring and the benefits that come with it.

Day 1 continued with exceptional presentations from researchers like Elina Niño and William Collins, who gave a glimpse into their work and the progress they have made on mite control and treatments. It was time for the heavy artillery: at about 3:00pm up on the stage came Jerry Hayes to share what Monsanto has been up to in their bee research efforts. Mites, Mites, Mites! With an annual bee research budget in the millions, Jerry Hayes leads Monsanto’s bee research and they are working on employing RNA interference (RNAi). The goal is to generate a small piece of “code” that will disable the mites without hurting the bees. To sum up the problem with mites: everybody is trying to figure out how to kill a small bug that’s on a big bug.

Randy Oliver had a different idea. “Fighting mites is a community thing,” Randy said. And if there is any one person to look the entire beekeeping community in the eye and deliver an open criticism of all the misunderstood practices of mite management, this person is Randy. His presentation on “Responsible Beekeeping” was the highlight of Day 1. And it makes all the sense in the world. To synthesize the presentation: if American beekeepers work together and start being more data-driven and if they employ tactics (like selective breeding) that don’t require much change in honeybee management, the Varoa mite can be a thing of the past in the USA in just 5 years. Randy provided all the data and evidence to support his arguments. We will do everything we can to support him.

Day 2 & Day 3 (Nov. 16-17, 2016)

What a packed schedule and how incredibly interesting it was! Dr. Brandon Hopkins started the second day talking about indoor wintering and what effects different levels of CO2 might have when wintering bees. Then there was more to come from Nick Naeger who told the crowd about his research in using mushroom extracts to support bee health. Jim Tew came on stage after that for another inspirational speech. Day 2 was intense, and Dennis Van Englesdorp was clearly the highlight in Day 2 with his presentation “The Mysterious Case of Dead Bees – Wrong Turns, Dead Ends and Some Surprises.”

It was strange to be there in San Diego. This was the first major beekeepers’ conference that we attended and, yes, it was incredible, but also it was very far from what we expected. We did not imagine that it will be so scientific. The beekeepers that were there were genuinely excited by new research and by the advancement of research groups working on a plethora of different issues. Not only that, but the beekeepers were engaged and inquisitive of the presenters. Ivan talked to a few beekeepers and he got an interesting response: “My family has been keeping bees for more than sixty years. It can all go to ruin if we don’t change. We’ve been feeling the ground shaking under our feet. Research and science is not our thing, but it’s quickly becoming a part of our lives.” Time for innovation?

Day 3 did not disappoint at all. John Miller came to deliver his “beekeeping fortunetelling in the presentation called “The World According to John.” And he really stressed the importance of maintaining currency in bee management practices and adapting to the new realities in beekeeping. In his assertive presentation style, with gentle hints of dry humor that produced many laughs, John Miller was hammering on the point that the industry is changing and what we expected to happen just five years ago is not really happening. Beekeepers need to adjust their expectations and be part of the future of beekeeping by shaping the modern practices.

Dennis Van Englesdrop gave an exciting presentation on the work of the Bee Informed Partnership, but didn’t come even close the what concluded the day and the conference: Randy Oliver took the stage and presented his elaborate mite management model that allowed beekeepers to track mite buildup, different treatments, the effects of these treatments when applied at different times and much, much more. We were blown away by how cumbersome and complete Randy’s model was. He was definitely the highlight of Day 3.

We heard so many great presentations and learned the latest in research during this year’s CSBA Annual Conference in San Diego. Most importantly, we had the opportunity to talk to all the beekeepers and gauge their vision about the future of beekeeping. Bottom line: the industry is ripe and ready for innovation, for the adoption of new technology, and just needs a little push. We hope to be that push.