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  1. #1
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    Default Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    A few years ago Ted K and I entered into a wager, that within 15 years even commercial beekeepers would be treatment free. In light of some comments made on the "unwritten rules..." thread about the impact of treatments on queens, I was wondering:

    Are any commercial beekeepers experimenting with an apiary or so the possibilities of going treatment free? I realize it is an economic impossibility to risk your whole operation, but is anyone testing the possibilities with a small portion of your operation?
    Regards,
    Steven
    "If all you have is a hammer, the whole world is a nail." - A.H. Maslow

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    It is an interesting question. I have never heard of any. Off the top of my head I would doubt that a commercial operation would last very long on TF..... too much mixing in with the other guy.... just to name one thing.
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    The key might be defining commercial... I know lots of guys makeing a liveing on "treatment free" MB probably fits that... I know Dve burns and some others also... But large scale migratory or honey operations are different....

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    Off the top of my head....Dee lusby, Kirk Webster, Bob Brachmann, les crowder....Chris Baldwin is darn close (no varroa treatments). Sam comfort would probably qualify, but I'm not sure he would want to be considered a commercial anything.

    Deknow
    The irony is free. It's the sarcasm you are paying for....ironically.
    -Felicity Jones in "Chalet Girl"

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    I know we have been through this conversation before and if we look at all who make money from bees we can name several operations. As I read the OP... it sounded as if he was referring to operations like TK.... migratory, these are the kind that would really put TF beekeeping to the test. I -- myself -- was thinking of putting up a TF yard, but I could never get Solomon to donate the bees...
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    I earned the name "Crazy" because I predicted that ONLY commercial people would be treatment free in 20 years. My reasoning being because of the large capitol expense of building chambers to decontaminate the equipment on a yearly basis to prevent the spread of CCD. The small hobbiest will get tired of having their bees die every year, whether they treat or not, once they get CCD.

    It is alot easier to pull off treatment free in a sedentary commercial operation than a migratory, although the critical point then becomes overwintering success.

    We are risking the whole operation treatment free, but we are on the small end of commercial and have some resources not available to the average beekeeper(translation: good support equipment such as metal and wood working equipment, and methods from long ago).

    Crazy Roland
    Last edited by JohnK and Sheri; 03-08-2013 at 10:33 AM.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    I don't know how many years its been since we had a variation of this conversation, and I asked because time has gone by. Then folks who went "treatment free" were considered nuts, to be kind (as "Crazy" Roland mentioned). But there have been more and more demonstrating that it can work and be cost effective. At least, as mentioned above, for the sedentary beekeepers. Obviously hobbiests and sideliners, with less invested and less to lose, have been more willing to try it. By less to lose I mean they won't starve or "lose the farm" if the bees fail, unlike commercials.

    B. Weaver, for one, touts their queens as able to turn around a hive. Other breeders might be making the same claim for their "treatment free" bees, I don't know. Thus it is conceivable that a migratory operation with one of their apiaries treatment free could withstand the mite pressure from a nearby "treated" operation. But hey! If a nearby operation is treated for mites, wouldn't that lessen the pressure on treatment free bees? I mean, both are dealing with mites, right?

    Perhaps I should have phrased my question focused on the migratory folks. But I imagine they'll be the last to test the theory in their operations, because of the perceived risk. And they may wait until some of their sedentary colleagues demonstrate honey harvest and winter survivability by using treatment free bees. Not being mercenary or anything, but believe me, I understand it all comes down to economics, and how the beekeeper will survive as a viable operation to make a living and support the family.
    Regards,
    Steven
    "If all you have is a hammer, the whole world is a nail." - A.H. Maslow

  8. #8

    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    When discussing treatment vs untreated we tend to focus on survival. While that is one essential measurement it doesn’t tell the entire story. What are the sublethal effects of varroa? Generally speaking, in my opinion, it could all be lumped into colony vigor. I’ve recently read a number of posts from experienced, commercial beekeepers lamenting the fact that flowering plants no longer seem to produce the same amounts of honey. Yards that were once high yielding that no longer seem productive. How much of these losses could actually be attributed to varroa parasitization? For the larger commercial beekeeper, even with stationary yards, the risks are much greater than the easily measurable annual colony losses.
    Just to add another perspective to this thread.
    Dan www.boogerhillbee.com
    Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    I am pretty certain we will never see a migratory TF operation, but I think that a stationary TF operation could be profitable. People seem to be willing to pay a premium price for TF bees and I am sure Solomon is correct when he says people line up to buy his nucs.

    I suspect that once you have established your TF bees that moving a different set of TF bees in with them or in close proximity could be a problem. In other words I wonder what would happen if I bought some Solomon nucs and some MB nucs and intermingled them in the same yard? Would they self-destruct? I hypothesize - yes..... unless of course Solomon's bees are derivatives of MB's, which I do not think they are....
    “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” - The Quran

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    Chris Baldwin is migratory. He gave up mite treatments several years ago (you should ask him directly for specifics) because "...it was the right thing to do." I believe he has had some EFB (perhaps "IADS ") and has used some TM at times. Again, for accurate specifics, ask him....he is migratory, and he does sometimes do almonds.

    Deknow
    The irony is free. It's the sarcasm you are paying for....ironically.
    -Felicity Jones in "Chalet Girl"

  11. #11
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    Sep 2005
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    There was a commercial operator at EAS that was talking about how he went queenless. I'd have to look at my notes to remember his name, but he operated in GA mainly, and sold queens as a side income. His main income was from pollination, although I don't know how migratory he went.

    He was talking about how the first few years he had massive losses from going treatment free, but now he's at the national average, or slightly under, of hives lost each year. And he doesn't have to pay for the treatments.

    I was surprised to hear this. I tried treatment free twice before, and lost all my hives. I even tried treatment free queens, and they collapsed from mites. At least personally, currently to me "treatment free"="no longer a beekeeper." I'm certain some commercial operators will figure it out, and then make it more financially viable to the rest of the beekeeping sectors, but until that large operator who has a large enough gene pool can choose to sacrifice colonies en masse to create a truly treatment free strain, then I don't really see it being successful and catching on. I hear others mention that it should start with the hobby beekeeper, as they have less to lose (i.e. not their livelihood), and I once agreed with them, but now I'm of the opinion that the hobby beekeeper doesn't have a large enough gene pool to truly select for DEPENDABLE resistance to varroa. As it's a multi gene effect, the true resistant strain should have hygienic traits, grooming traits, chewing traits, and resistance to virus traits, and the hobby beekeeper would only have access to one MAYBE two of these traits at best, while the commercial operator with 1,000 colonies has the best odds to hold colonies that possess three and maybe four of these traits, all be it in whatever random compilation. At least, all passing thoughts in my personal opinion.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    A bee that would stand up treatment free to the rigors of the common model for commercial honey producers/pollinators in the US would be most welcome, of course, but no one to my knowledge so far has been able to consistently pull it off. Practically speaking from the commercial point of view, I would think to carry the badge "treatment free" the results should be scalable, verifiable and duplicatable within a certain time frame. Anyone can get lucky on a small scale over a particularly favorable winter; consistent survivability over several seasons is a bit more difficult.

    When talking to some treatment free proponents, it appears to me that raising nucs to repopulate the dead outs is sometimes a major part of the survival strategy. I question if requeening and replacing the dead bees qualifies as "non treatment"? It might just be a matter of semantics, but we are really not all on the same page as to the definition. It is, as beemandan mentions, not just an issue of survivability, but a ratio of cost of treatment/ costs to replace dead bees/ loss of honey production etc. The perception of "right thing to do" is also a factor, but making a living to feed the kids is the right thing to do too.?

    Unfortunately, in my experience, there are no commercials who have successfully, over several years, been able to be treatment free and not had major crashes.
    Kudos top those working towards this goal. We all wish them luck.

    Sheri

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    I think part of the issue is migratory bees are not affected by regionality as they're moved all over. They get exposed to a lot of biotypes of pathogens, not just ones isolated to certain areas. A lot of TF success that people tout is to get local bees/queens, which works for non-migratory operations unless they're set up near migratory yards, but when regionality no longer plays a role it becomes a little more difficult. I think it's doable, but it will raise your costs overall I would assume, even with cutting costs on treating which makes for poor economics in the long run.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    Quote Originally Posted by hpm08161947 View Post
    People seem to be willing to pay a premium price for TF bees and I am sure Solomon is correct when he says people line up to buy his nucs.
    The line is short, I will admit. There are relatively few within driving range.


    Quote Originally Posted by hpm08161947 View Post
    unless of course Solomon's bees are derivatives of MB's, which I do not think they are....
    They are unrelated for as far back as I am aware of.


    Quote Originally Posted by JohnK and Sheri View Post
    When talking to some treatment free proponents, it appears to me that raising nucs to repopulate the dead outs is sometimes a major part of the survival strategy.
    It is for some. See MDASplitter, etc. I have had one overwintering deadout in the last two winters. To me, the sorts of energy intensive manipulations like brood breaks and mass numbers of nucs are not evidence of a sustainable situation.


    Quote Originally Posted by JohnK and Sheri View Post
    Unfortunately, in my experience, there are no commercials who have successfully, over several years, been able to be treatment free and not had major crashes.
    Major crashes are usually part of the process in my experience. "Treatment-free" is not something that is simply tried. It takes several years in my experience.

    I am personally dubious at least for the time being that treatment-free migratory bees are possible. Bees did not evolve with much moving in mind. It is very stressful on them. My worst loss in my ten years of beekeeping came after moving my bees from Oregon to Arkansas. This is my experience, I really can't speak to anything else.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    What percentage of large, treatment free operations are located in the arid Southwest or south Texas? I ask because in my area varroa is not a major problem. Perhaps the climate gives operations like Dee Lusby's a boost?

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    You have a good point jdawdy, I wonder how much actual varroa pressure or lack of in certain areas contribute to success or lack thereof of TF keepers.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    Africanized bees tend to handle varroa. So…if you’re beekeeping in an area that is that is substantially Africanized, mites are less of a problem.
    Dan www.boogerhillbee.com
    Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    Quote Originally Posted by beemandan View Post
    Africanized bees tend to handle varroa. So…if you’re beekeeping in an area that is that is substantially Africanized, mites are less of a problem.
    That maybe true but ...
    If you keep bees where Africanized bees are present mites have a longer season to increase.


    Does that make it wash?

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    Quote Originally Posted by jdawdy View Post
    Perhaps the climate gives operations like Dee Lusby's a boost?
    I don't think it's the climate. When I looked through their hives, you could easily find mites. I think it has more to do with their bee genetics.
    Regards, Barry

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Treatment Free Commercial Beekeepers?

    I would hope the goal of commercials would be to treat responsibly and for their product to be free of any detectable contaminant from any of their treatments. The goal of being treatment free by the Bee Source definition is no doubt of secondary importance to the commercial beekeepers that I know. It's a nice notion but I just don't see the incentive when there are so many good options for mite control.
    "People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney

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