Bayer CropScience opens Bee Care Center in RTP

Apr. 15, 2014 @ 05:49 PM

Honeybees are in trouble.

Each year, the United States loses about a third of its honeybee population, said David R. Tarpy, an associate professor and extension beekeeper at N.C. State University.

And while beekeepers have been building the numbers back up, he said, it’s difficult for them to keep up at that pace of loss.

“The overall problem is that colonies are dying off at a greater rate than what is sustainable, and because we need them for pollinators, we need a sustainable honeybee population,” he said.

Responding to that threat, Bayer CropScience, a producer of pesticides, genetically modified seeds and traits for crops and other products, opened the $2.4 million North American Bayer Bee Care Center Tuesday. The company, which has its North American headquarters in the Research Triangle Park, is a division of Germany-based Bayer AG.

According to a news release, the company’s new bee center has a laboratory with a teaching and research apiary, honey extraction and hive maintenance space, a learning center, a meeting area, presentation areas, and office space for staff- or student-researchers.

Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer Crop Science LP, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the company will allow outside graduate students and other researchers to do studies at the 6,000-square-foot center on bee health-related subjects of their choice.

“We don’t really know the interaction around the complex effectors influencing the population dynamics,” Blome said. “Originally, our goal was just too provide the state-of –the-art facility to enhance the pure-science look at it,” he also said.

While the company invested in the bee health facility, it’s also maker of pesticides in a class called neonicotinoids that have been linked in certain studies to harmful impacts on bees. The European Commission banned certain pesticides in the class for two years because of risks for bees.

“This is one of many factors,” Blome said of neonicotinoids. “Bees can be exposed to anything in the environment…we’ll be looking at the interaction,” he added.

In separate facilities, Blome said, the company is doing work to develop a new pesticide to fight the varroa mite. That’s being done as part of the company’s animal health division in Kansas City. He also said the company does its own work assessing safety of its pesticides separately from the bee care facility.

Jack Bishop, a hobby beekeeper and a retired toxicologist, has eight colonies of bees. He said bees have “a lot of pests that are plaguing them these days” and he believes it’s hard to separate the impact of neonicotinoids from other factors.

“These are confounding factors so it’s hard to separate those,” he said. “Hopefully Bayer will study the interaction of those kinds of factors.”