UF Professor Jamie Ellis handling honey bees during a research session./ Photo by Tyler Jones, courtesy of UF/IFAS

UF Professor Jamie Ellis handling honey bees during a research session./ Photo by Tyler Jones, courtesy of UF/IFAS

Florida soon will buzz into the lead in the global investigation of bee-colony collapse disorder, thanks to a $2.7 million commitment toward an expanded research laboratory by the state, the University of Florida, and the Florida State Beekeepers Association.

FSBA President Tony Hogg said that design work for the Honey Bee Research & Extension Lab’s new building is underway, although a site has not yet been selected and his organization still is striving to raise $1 million more for the project. The lab is based at UF in Gainesville.

The 2016-17 Florida Legislature allocated $2 million toward the planned 10,000-square-foot bee laboratory, funding that Gov. Rick Scott had vetoed twice before. The legislation requires a $500,000 match from UF and $200,000 more from the FSBA.


“We have raised our matching money,” Hogg said, “but the reality is that … at a minimum, we need $3.5 million to raise the bee lab – the type of facility we believe we need to have to do the research that’s required. So our efforts have not stopped. We also need to generate some recurring funding so that the State Beekeepers (FSBA) can fund some research in areas that we actually want to see research done.”

Hogg said the goal is to break ground on the lab around the beginning of 2017, and to have it completed by sometime in 2018.

No. of beekeepers increasing

Chief Apiary Inspector David Westervelt, of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said this boost couldn’t be coming at a better time. That’s because the number of beekeepers in the state has burgeoned in the past decade, from around 600 in 2006 to 4,100 now, while his staff of 14 has not increased.

Ashley Mortensen (right) and Mary Bammer (left) dissect bumblebee colonies that were used for research in Florida blueberry fields. / Photo courtesy UF/IFAS

Ashley Mortensen (right) and Mary Bammer (left) dissect bumblebee colonies that were used for research in Florida blueberry fields. / Photo courtesy UF/IFAS

“It’s nothing but a win-win situation, not only for the Florida Department of Agriculture but for the bee industry and Floridians,” he said. “We’ll have what I’m saying will be the world’s best bee lab, because we’ll be having people from other countries coming to work here. Florida’s one of the only places where you can work on honeybees virtually year-round. The name says it: Florida’s full of flowers; the bees love it.”

Westervelt is looking forward to more assistance than UF already provides in probing the mystery of bee-colony collapse, a problem that has grown markedly in recent years.

“There is a major bee loss every year. Beekeepers are losing 30, 35, 40 percent of their bees. Luckily, as long as the price of honey and pollination stays up, they can recoup that,” Westervelt noted. “It’s something that’s a renewable resource. But it’s hard for beekeepers to keep that up, year after year after year.”

Jamie Ellis, the UF associate professor of entomology who runs the Honey Bee Research & Extension Lab, echoed Westervelt’s enthusiasm.

“We’re very excited about it. It’s going to be an amazing resource for Florida beekeepers and Florida citizens. Everyone benefits when bees are healthy,” Ellis said. “So it’s just a great opportunity for UF. We’re very grateful to the Florida Legislature, as well as the FSBA and all involved, who made this possible.”

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Chris Felker is a contributing writer for Florida Food & Farm. He freelances for other publications in South Florida.