Improving beekeeper management practices to increase pollinator health and honey production in New York




Despite the increasing demand for crop pollination and growing consumer preference toward local honey, NYS beekeepers are experiencing excessive and unsustainable colony losses. These losses totaled 54% in 2014 alone, exceeding what beekeepers consider economically sustainable (15-20%) and the national average (42%). The prevalence of Varroa, Nosema, and viruses in colonies, as well as beekeepers’ management practices used to control them, are currently unknown for NYS. These parasites and pathogens have negative implications on NYS agriculture. Slow colony growth and death from these issues translate into decreased honey production, a reduction in the stability of pollination services to NYS’s most important crops, and pose a considerable detriment to beekeepers’ businesses. Thus, we designed a study to assess current beekeeper management practices in NYS, and understand how management practices relate to parasite levels, colony loss rates and honey production. This research project is closely aligned with the NYS Beekeeper Tech Team, which is headed by Emma Mullen.


Severe honey bee colony loss rates in NYS.


In September 2016, we sampled 309 honey bee colonies distributed across 70 apiaries in NYS. Of the 60 beekeepers, 31 were hobbyists (owned 1-49 colonies), 13 were sideliners (50-499 colonies), and 16 were commercial beekeepers (500 or more colonies). Colonies were sampled for Varroa mites, Nosema and 6 viruses. To date, we have found some instructive results. The 60 beekeepers’ annual colony loss in 2016 (including winter and summer loss) averaged 34%. Hobbyists lost 42% of their colonies, sideliners lost 29%, and commercial beekeepers lost 30% between October 2015 and September 2016. Varroa mites were very common in honey bee colonies in NYS. Of the 309 colonies sampled, 277 (90%) contained Varroa mites, and 192 (62%) were above the economic threshold. Out of 70 apiaries visited, all except one (99%) had at least one colony with Varroa mites. Varroa mites were significantly higher in hobbyists’ colonies compared to sideliners’ colonies, but there were no significant differences in mite levels between either group and commercial colonies. Nosema spores were present in 185 out of 309 colonies (60%), but were above the economic threshold in only 22 colonies. The majority of instances of Nosema infections above the economic threshold occurred in commercial operations (19 cases) compared to sideliners (1 case) and hobbyists (1 case); however, there were no significant differences in average Nosema infection rates among the three operation sizes. Viruses were quite prevalent in the honey bee colonies sampled. At least one virus was present in every colony, and it was more common to have multiple viruses present at the same time. Seven percent of colonies had 1 virus, 34% had 2 viruses, 44% had 3 viruses, 13% had 4 viruses and 2% had 5 viruses. Overall, commercial and sideliner colonies harbored more viruses (4.2 and 3.9 per colony, respectively) than hobby colonies (2.4 per colony). There was no relationship between beekeeping operation type and virus levels for ABPV, CBPV, DWV, KBV or LSV2. Levels of BQCV differed between operation types (sideliner levels were greater than hobbyists), as did the levels of IAPV (commercial levels were greater than hobbyists). There was a strong positive relationship between Varroa mite levels and DWV levels.


We are currently working with a recently-hired agricultural economist (Mary Kate Wheeler) to assess how management practices relate to parasite levels in the hives. Preliminary results from this study have been shared with the Empire State Honey Producer’s Association (ESHPA), NYS Apiary Advisory Committee, NYSDAM, NYSDEC and the NYS Governor’s office.

Submitted by: 

  • Mullen, Emma K

Researchers involved: 

  • McArt, Scott
  • Mullen, Emma K

International focus: 

  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • New York