Hop plant product helping North Dakota beekeepers
By Blake Nicholson
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Beekeepers in the nation's top honey-producing state are getting help through a product tied to a plant typically associated with beer.
The federal government is once again allowing North Dakota beekeepers to use Hopguard pesticide — made from an extract of the hop plant — to control a pest thought to be connected to colony collapse disorder.
"Left uncontrolled, varroa mites cause deep and widespread losses in bee colonies," Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. "They are the most serious pest problem facing beekeepers."
Goehring successfully lobbied the federal Environmental Protection Agency to allow the use of Hopguard in North Dakota while the product made by Washington, D.C.-based BetaTec Hop Products is still going through the federal registration process.
North Dakota has received a Hopguard exemption in each of the past four years. Other honey states also have successfully sought exemptions. South Dakota, another top honey-producing state, has received approval the past three years, according to its Agriculture Department.
There are no concerns about the safety of the as-yet unregistered Hopguard because it's made from a natural product, said Jim Gray, director of the state Agriculture Department's pesticide and fertilizer division.
"We requested the (exemption) to give our beekeepers as many tools in the toolbox as we can, in the hopes that they have something to control the mites," Gray said.
Protecting the health of honeybees has become a prominent issue because of colony collapse disorder, which has caused as much as one-third of the nation's bees to disappear each winter since 2006. A federal report blames a combination of factors including mites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides.
Minot beekeeper Will Nissen said the availability of Hopguard is important to the industry because it is the only pesticide that is legal to use during actual honey production.
"We've got a tool we can use during the summer," he said. "I think this really helps."
North Dakota beekeepers last year produced about 34 million pounds of honey from about half a million colonies. The value of the honey crop was estimated at $64.6 million. The state has led the nation in honey production for a decade.