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Project update 1.2 (June 2011)

Progress during Period Two of Year One: March 1, 2011 to June 30, 2011.

Over the last four months we have been busy consulting with farmers and beekeepers about their experiences with bee plants. Their information is critical to our work because their “on the ground experiences” complements and validates our information from the literature that we have been entering into the Trees for Bees database. In this way we can ensure that we present accurate results that really work for the New Zealand conditions.

To further information exchange, we presented the Trees for Bees program in our exhibits and talks at two Federated Farmer (FF) annual conferences: the joint conference of FF Grain and Seed farmers with the FF Beekeepers in May 25-27th, and the South Island High Country Farmers on June 10th. This resulted in excellent press coverage that reached farmers directly. From the questions after our talks and in discussions held at the Trees for Bees workshop with the beekeepers on May 27th we obtained clear guidelines on how beekeepers see a “Bee Friendly Farm” with permanent apiaries for South Island (S.I.) High Country farmers. We included this information in our talks at the S.I. High Country farmer’s conference. At this conference, Ross Little, the Chair of our SFF Bee Friendly Farming Group (BFFG) (and a sheep and beef hill country farmer in Amberley), introduced our SFF research project, then Tony Roper reported on what bees need and why, Marco Gonzalez on how to incorporate bees into their farming systems, and Linda Newstrom-Lloyd on how the database facilitates choosing the right plants for good bee forage that will sustain permanent apiaries in the high country thereby improving and ensuring pollination for pastures.

Because of the high profile this SFF Project has gained, an unexpected major opportunity arose to disseminate information about Trees for Bees. On May 12th Linda Newstrom-Lloyd was invited by NBA to present with NBA past-president Frans Laas and NBA new-president Barry Foster to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Pollinator Security. MPs heard that the loss of pollen resources for bees is one of the three serious issues (along with pests and diseases and pesticide misuse) that are causing concern for the future of the irreplaceable honey bees as pollinators in New Zealand.

Lastly, we also disseminated information by working with beekeepers during Bee Week at the end of May and contributing to a new joint program “Urban Trees for Bees” started by Maureen Maxwell of NBA. This resulted in widespread press coverage for Trees for Bees that will help the public understand how to support beekeepers and bees. We also participated in the National Beekeeper’s (NBA) conference June 25 – 30th with our exhibit, presentations, and workshop. Tony and Linda presented two talks on bee nutrition and a workshop during the hobbyists’ day. Then Tony, Marco and Linda presented three further talks on the commercial beekeepers’ day explaining the SFF Project and requesting their participation in the Trees for Bees research.

During both the FF and NBA conferences, our Trees for Bees “Roving Reporters” (Rae Butler, Karyne Rogers and Linda Newstrom-Lloyd) conducted over 44 beekeeper interviews. The purpose of the interviews was to survey what are the major plants that beekeepers rely on for pollen, nectar and honey and what are their main pollen deficiency seasons. These data are being entered into the database to give rankings of importance to good bee forage plants. These interviews proved to be so valuable with key information to help the research that we will continue to survey more beekeepers by phone in the next few months.

All of this important dissemination work has given us new contacts for people wanting to participate in demonstration farms and has provided information on what to focus on in creating “Bee Friendly” farms. We also held meetings in the North Island (with NBA project team members) and the South Island (with Foundation for Arable Research and FF Bees) on designing and executing the planned demonstration farms.

All of the data that goes into designing a “Bee Friendly” farm will identify the right choice of plants that flower in the right season to help the bees survive and flourish. Therefore, much of our time in this last period was spent entering data into the Landcare Research Trees for Bees database. We have entered information from seven international sources on what plants are considered the best for bees. The information in the literature on protein levels in pollen is not abundant as we could find only three in depth sources. However there is data scattered throughout various books and other literature although it is not often quantitative data.

The key to great pollen plants is to identify which plants have high protein levels assuming the protein is bio-available. Our own lab analyses of pollen will make up for gaps in the literature. Many beekeepers have helped us by bringing in pollen samples and we have completed some of the lab analyses trials. We have preliminary results on nitrogen content for several pollen samples conducted at the GNS labs by Dr. Karyne Rogers. Once these are confirmed by replications, we will be reporting them.

Our focus during the next period is to consolidate our network of farmers and beekeepers working on creating “Bee Friendly” demonstration farms; to collect more pollen when spring arrives; and to further analyze the lab results, literature review data, and beekeeper surveys.