Researcher Devotes Career to Producing Disease...

Researcher Devotes Career to Producing Disease and Mite Resistant Queen Honey Bees

Researcher Devotes Career to Producing Disease and Mite Resistant Queen Honey Bees

In Rochester, IL, Stu Jacobson has devoted years to increasing interest and understanding among beekeepers.

Jacobson has been working with bees for decades. He kept bees in Cape Cod, Massachusetts where he lived from 1970 to 1991.  He has a PhD in biology and he did his Post Doc work studying African bees when they first arrived in Venezuela in 1978. He started beekeeping in central Illinois in 1993, where he eventually commenced the formation of an Illinois Queen Project.

Jacobson believes that bees play a vital role in the sustainability of agricultural systems.

“About 1/3 of every bite of food we eat requires insect pollination,” said Jacobson. “Honey bees are the most important pollinators for virtually all fruits and many vegetable crops; these foods high in antioxidants, fiber, etc. Native pollinators are unlikely to regain sufficient importance as long as agriculture relies on large monocultures, insecticides, herbicides, and clean cultivation.”

Since 2003, Jacobson has received four NCR-SARE grants for his work to increase understanding and adoption of disease and mite resistant lines among beekeepers in Illinois and surrounding areas in eastern Missouri and southern Wisconsin. 

“The projects have been designed to address the dual problems of a lack of adoption of disease and mite resistant or tolerant lines of bees and an over-reliance on queens from Sunbelt states,” explained Jacobson. “Use of these lines will lessen the industry’s dependence on harsh chemical and antibiotics, which can contaminate honey and cause reproductive problems for the bees, and should be at the core of strategies to address Colony Collapse Disorder.”

A major part of Jacobson's SARE-related work has involved presentations to beekeepers on disease and mite resistant lines of bees. Groups have included the Bluegrass Beekeeping School, which draws beekeepers from Indiana and Ohio, the Kankakee Valley IL Beekeepers Association, the Lincoln Land Beekeepers’ Association, the Illinois State Beekeepers’ Association (ISBA), the State Line Beekeepers Association, and the Eastern Apicultural Society, among others.

A 2008 Illinois State Beekeepers’ Association meeting and another meeting of the Stateline Beekeepers Association (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin) served as catalysts for the formation of an Illinois Queen Project (IQP). This initiative’s purpose is to promote the Illinois production of disease and mite resistant queens as well as small colonies adapted to the state’s climate and conditions.

Along with presenting information about mite resistant bees, and being instrumental in the formation of beekeeper networks, Jacobson has worked to produce disease and mite resistant Minnesota Hygienic queens and to sell them to local beekeepers.

Jacobson has used standard “cell grafting” methods to raise queens at farms in Loami and Rochester, IL. Sustainable beekeeping practices were used at both sites - either no treatments or only “soft,” botanically-based treatments were used for varroa mites, and no antibiotics were used for at least 7 years at either site prior to his work. Jacobson introduces the cells individually into small colonies called mating nuclei; then the virgin queens take mating flights and remain until they begin laying eggs. Once they begin laying eggs, they are sold or placed into larger colonies. 

According to Jacobson, prior to his SARE project work, only one person in Illinois was raising honey bee queens for sale. He says there has been a significant increase in the number of beekeepers raising queens for sale, from eight beekeepers at the beginning of 2011 to an estimated 17 by fall 2012. Additionally, Jacobson says the SARE projects have greatly increased awareness of and interest in buying locally-produced queens and bees as measured by increased requests for queens and small colonies or “nucs.”

"This year, we started to provide nucs with locally adapted queens and bees to beginning beekeeper members of the Lincoln Land Beekeepers Association in central Illinois," said Jacobson. "The idea for this came from the talk about a similar project near St. Louis at the 2012 annual meeting of the Illinois Queen Initiative. The impetus for the project arose from the high rates of queen losses and failures of package bees from California among association members. 

If successful, Jacobson plans to replicate the nuc project with other local beekeeping associations.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) ENC03-072, Professional Development Program in Apiculture and Pollination , FNC06-641, Northern Production of Disease and Mite Resistant Queen Honey Bees FNC08-705, Increasing the Production and Use of Disease and Mite Resistant Queens Adapted to Northern Conditions and FNC10-822, Sustainable beekeeping: Increasing Production and Utilization of Northern-Adapted, Disease and Mite Resistant Honey Bee Queens .

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Location: Illinois | North Central
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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.