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Group Campaigns for More Bees in Northwestern Missouri

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Group Campaigns for More Bees in Northwestern Missouri

Joining efforts to build the bee population and crop production in Nodaway County are (from left) Kevin Helzer, Byron Miller, Mike Burch and Ray Werner.Byron Miller may be retired from a 30-year career as a teacher and principal in Nodaway County, but he's still educating. These days he uses his skills to spread what he believes is an important message: bounty begins with a bee.

"My goal is to get more bees in Nodaway County,"he says. "We don't have many bees here anymore, and we need them."

In an attempt to increase the number of bee hives, Miller began teaching a beekeeping seminar in 2008. The first seminar only attracted three participants, but there were 27 in his January 2009 class at a vocational school in Maryville. As a follow up to the seminars, Miller orders bees for the participants. When the bees arrive and the new beekeepers go to Miller's house to get their bees, he shows them how to introduce the bees into the new hives.

"Most of the people are from northwest Missouri,"he says. "I'm bringing 50 new hives into Nodaway County this year. I'm not interested in making money on bees. I just think we need more pollination."

His belief is well founded. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that domestic honeybees pollinate $10 billion worth of crops in the United States each year. Bees and other pollinators are critical to the production of flowering plants, including major food crops like corn and soybeans. Pollinators are especially important to fruit, vegetable and nut growers.

"Bees aren't the only pollinators,"says Kevin Helzer, a St. Joseph accountant who keeps bees on his farm at Barnard. "Every bug that crawls on a flower is a pollinator, but bees are the best because they make honey. Pollen is their whole livelihood."

Helzer is one of three northwestern Missouri landowners and beekeepers helping Miller this year while Miller is receiving medical treatments that often make him weak. The others are Mike Burch, of Ravenwood, and Ray Werner, of Parnell.

"Having honey is nice, but the need for increased pollination is why I got into beekeeping,"Helzer says. "You just don't see bees anymore, and it's hard to even grow a garden.

"With these extra hives, there will be benefits the first year. There could be increased yields in some crops, and people living in town could see more flowers."

Miller knows that importing more bees is only part of the answer. Managed honey bee colonies have shrunk by 25 percent since 1990, and there are fewer hives than at any time in the past 50 years. Habitat loss, excessive exposure to agrichemicals, the spread of diseases, parasitic mites, colony collapse disorder, and the invasion of African honey bees are commonly cited as the causes of what has been called an impending pollination crisis.

There are several things landowners can do to help pollinators. The Natural Resources Conservation Service advises land managers to: plant pollinator-friendly crops such as clovers, alfalfa, trefoils and legumes; use conservation buffers which provide habitat for pollinators; allow plants to bloom before mowing, tilling or grazing them; and be conscious of pesticide applications.

Pesticide application is another area Miller is trying to address in Nodaway County.

"The main thing that I am working on is to get neighbors to let me know the night before they spray so I can cover my bees up,"he says.

Miller uses cheese-cloth covers made by Amish neighbors to cover his hives when the bees are in the hives at night. That keeps his bees from going to the fields when neighbors spray pesticides the next day.

"If the bees are out there when (the neighbors) are spraying, they're dead,"Miller says. "I'm not asking my neighbors not to spray. All I ask is that they notify me."

Burch says what Miller and other beekeepers are asking their neighbors to do is not difficult, though it could require coordination with custom sprayers.

"Because bees will help to increase yields, it's in the farmers'best interest to cooperate,"he says. "We just need to get them to think about it."

Miller, Helzer, Burch and Werner vow to continue with their efforts, which includes an attempt to begin a beekeeping club. If all goes well, there should be more bees, and more bounty in northwestern Missouri.

For more information about the club or about how to become a beekeeper, contact Helzer at bkhelzer@gmail.com, Werner at werner@grm.net, or Burch at mburch@grm.net. Miller can be contacted by telephone at (660) 254-5200.

Information about pollinators and farming practices that benefit pollinators is available here.

For more information on Missouri news items or publications, please call Public Affairs, (573) 876-0911.