The periodic replacement of queens is a procedure recognized as necessary by the beekeepers for the good development of the activity. Aiming to improve honey production in the State, the practice developed by Epagri has as its goal the mass selection and production of queens with the use of the larvae transfer method. Technologies are applied enabling the large scale production of queens selected through the mass method, with emphasis on resistance to diseases and pests and high productivity of honey. The method used allows the producer to choose the colonies that will birth the queens, as well as determine their quality, since it is possible to select those with the best morphological characteristics, such as weight and size at birth. 

The project operates in the entire State of Santa Catarina, but with emphasis on the Northern and Midwestern regions. 50 beekeepers are currently part of the project. Among the most relevant results of the practice are: the increase of 8 tonnes of honey per harvest, that is, an increase of about 30% in production; improvement of the health of the apiaries through the establishment of a roster of colonies with the greatest hygienic behavior and the lowest infestation by Varroa destructor; increase in the periodic replacement of the queens and stimulation to the production of queen bees by beekeepers.

  

A - General Information

 

BEGGINNING:  June 2010

COMPLETION: In progress 

EXECUTING ENTITY: Company of Agricultural Research and Rural Extension of Santa Catarina - EPAGRI

PARTNERS: Foundation for Research and Innovation of the Santa Catarina State – FAPESC

PRESENTED BY: Tânia Patrícia Schafaschek

RESOURCES: Own and third-party 

VALUE RANGE: Over US$ 25,000.00

CATEGORY: Project

MAIN THEMATIC AREA: Agriculture

KEY-WORDS: Apiculture; agriculture; animal husbandry; family farming; Apis mellifera; queen bee production; larvae transfer; replacement of queens; hygienic behavior, Varroa destructor, Epagri

TARGET AUDIENCE: Beekeepers and their associations, family farmers, extension workers and rural technicians who work in the beekeeping field.

LOCATION: Rural Area

GEOGRAPHIC COVERAGE: State

MUNICIPALITIES: Itaiópolis, Mafra, Monte Castelo, Porto União, Matos Costa, Lebon Régis, Videira, São Miguel do Oeste, Campos Novos, São Joaquim, Urussanga, Vidal Ramos, Florianópolis.

SPECIFIC AREA OF IMPLEMENTATION: Rural communities with income based on honey production.

 

B - Description of the practice

 

1- BACKGROUND

The State of Santa Catarina is the third largest producer of honey, with approximately 10,000 beekeepers involved in the activity. However, in the year of 2012 the productivity rates were low if compared to the potential existent in the state. The average was only of 12.5 kg/hive/year, which was below the national average of 18 kg/hive/year (IBGE, 2012).

In a survey carried out by Epagri technicians in the year of 2010, it was observed that the low productivity of apiaries, together with the constant mortality of the colonies, was mainly due to the lack of proper management. The presence of queens of unknown origin, the lack of perception of the importance of periodically replacing the queens and of selecting them with greater technical accuracy were contributing factors to the unsatisfactory production. Only large beekeepers, with a better structure, used to replace selected queens. The presence of V. destructor in colonies was also a factor of concern, since many beekeepers reported high rates of infestation in their hives throughout the year and the need of using products to control the infestations. On the other hand, the use of these products also caused concern, since their indiscriminate use could lead to bigger problems such as the resistance of mites or the contamination of bee products. The presence of Africanized bees allowed (through the exclusive selection of colonies with high hygienic behavior) these indexes to be overcome by their high capacity of eliminating mites.

In face of these challenges Epagri (Videira Experimental Station – EEV) started a queen selection project in 2010, by installing eight selection apiaries in the regions/municipalities of São Miguel do Oeste, Campos Novos, São Joaquim, Urussanga, Vidal Ramos, Florianópolis, Itaiópolis and Videira.

  

2- GENERAL OBJECTIVE

Promoting selection and production strategies for A. mellifera queens from colonies with high hygienic behavior and low infestation by V. destructor.

Specific Objectives: 

  • Selecting A. mellifera bee colonies with high hygienic behavior and the ability of maintaining low levels of V. destructor mite infestation;
  •  Producing queens through the larvae transfer method in selected bee colonies;
  •  Encouraging the periodic replacement of queens by beekeepers, aiming at the use of genetic material with good production characteristics and known source;
  •  Encouraging queen production in a large scale, aiming to facilitate the replacement of the queens, ensuring the use of selected genetic material;
  •  Providing a new cost-effective alternative in partnership with the beekeepers with the production and sale of queens.

 

3 - ADOPTED SOLUTION

The activities of selection and production of A. mellifera queens in the State of Santa Catarina began in the year of 2010 in the Epagri - Videira Experimental Station (EEV). The first steps of the project consisted in the carrying out of structure modifications and the implementation of a Queen Production Laboratory, located in the EVV. The laboratory is responsible for the production of queens through the larvae transfer method.

The methodology for the implementing of the project is composed by the selection of colonies, breeding, and introduction of new queens in the rural property. The selection of colonies was carried out through observation of the characteristics and behavior of the bees (mass selection). For this stage, eight regional selection apiaries were installed in the municipalities of São Miguel do Oeste, Campos Novos, São Joaquim, Urussanga, Vidal Ramos, Florianópolis, Itaiópolis and Videira. The colonies that made up these apiaries were donated by beekeepers, being that, in each region the survey covered the observation of twelve apiaries distributed in the different municipalities. The bees were obtained from the hives considered productive and with characteristics of interest, such as high hygienic behavior, low defensiveness and high honey productivity. Based on the information obtained from the beekeepers, the Epagri technicians selected a total of 96 bee colonies that went through technical evaluation during the two beekeeping seasons as to: honey productivity, the bees ' hygienic behavior, and greater resistance to V. destructor. The colonies that stood out were selected and reproduced in the EEV for assessment in the following seasons. The reproduction of this selected material has occurred in the EEV, through the larvae transfer method.

In order for the new queens to be introduced or produced on the property, it was necessary that the beekeeper manifested interest in improving the conditions of his/her facility. Technical visits and regular training on the importance of quality queens in the colony and the replacement of the ones that do not have desirable characteristics, were essential to raising awareness and mobilizing beekeepers. Once the beekeeper manifested interest, Epagri started monitoring these apiaries and providing selected queens, which were subsequently evaluated according to the above mentioned characteristics.

In addition to the introduction of queens from the EVV, it was encouraged that the beekeeper undertakes the production of queens in his/her own property. At that stage, Epagri provided theoretical and practical training on the selection criteria, queen production techniques and on the required structural improvements (As is mentioned in Annex 2). It is worth mentioning that the training and approaching of the farmer took into account the technological conditions and the structure available at the property. Once the technique is mastered and a management schedule is installed in the property, the beekeeper has greater autonomy from external assistance. Around 50 beekeepers have adhered to the technology and have been gradually increasing the percentage of the colonies where they carry out the annual replacement of queens.

 

4 - RESULTS ACHIEVED

Some of the results achieved with the actions for the improvement of honey production through the development of selection and production strategies for Apis mellifera queen bees are: 

• 50 beekeepers currently carrying out the periodic replacement of queens with selected genetic material produced through the larvae transfer method in the regions in the Northern and a Western regions of the State of Santa Catarina;
• 10% of the beekeepers produce their own queens for replacement in their hives, using the adapted method;
• Savings made in the purchase of queens in the order of approximately US$ 30.00 per hive (the farmers involved with the project have an average of 200 hives each);
• Average increase of income per hive of approximately US$100.00 per beekeeping season (Annex 3);
• Increase in honey productivity. By analyzing the period from 2014 to 2016 we are able to verify that the implementing of this technology by the 50 beekeepers who promptly adhered to the project enabled them to increase a total of 8 tonnes of honey per harvest, that is, an average increase of 30% in production if compared to previous years;
• A reduction of up to 43% in varroa infestation in adult bees in the colonies with selected queens was also observed;
• Increased resistance of the colonies to winter. This fact is due to the more prolific young queens that are able to produce offspring for a prolonged period until the next winter, allowing the colony to maintain a high population level and with young bees, which will have greater longevity during this critical period for the survival of the colonies;
• Provision of conditions for the creation of a new income generation segment for family farming: the production of queens;
• Holding of training courses and capacity building for farmers and technicians;
   

 

5 - NECESSARY RESOURCES

Human Resources

 

  • 01 zootechnician researcher; 01 field officer; beekeepers and rural extension workers.

Material resources

 

The necessary infrastructure for the establishing of a queen production/evaluation laboratory and the carrying out of the practice at a state level are:
• For the building of 01 Laboratory for the production of queens: BOD greenhouse, humidifier, air conditioning (for heating the environment in the process of larvae transfer), precision scale, caliper, CO2 cylinder, fridge, brackets for supporting combs containing the larvae for transfer, transport greenhouses, and other material necessary for larvae transfer such as acrylic domes, sliding door domes, tongs for transferring the larvae, queen markers, cages for transportation and introduction of queens.
• Apiaries containing bee hives composed of: nest and Langstroth hive for evaluation and selection of colonies and rebuilt hives for receiving the larvae transferred for queen production;
• Apiary containing the fertilization nuclei of the queens produced.
• 01 vehicle for transporting the team.

Necessary infrastructure for the production of queens by beekeepers in their own property:
• Space for conducting the larvae transfer, where it is possible to keep the temperature above 25°C and a relative humidity above 65%, and containing: stands for the combs containing the larvae to be transferred, lanterns for lighting, acrylic or wax domes, sliding door domes, tweezers for transfering the larvae, queen markers, cages for transportation and introduction of queens;
• 01 apiary containing the matrix hives (hives that are experiencing the best features of hygienic behavior and high productivity of honey and rebuilt hives;
• 01 apiary containing fertilization nuclei for the queens produced (optional).

 

6 - TRANSFER

 

The practice has been directly transferred to the beekeepers belonging to the municipalities of Videira, Lebon Régis, Monte Castelo, Itaiópolis, Mafra, Santa Terezinha, Matos Costa and Porto União, the last two municipalities belonging to the Molina Beekeeping Association - MOLIMEL. The practice was widely disseminated through lectures, field days, workshops and the hosting of excursions to the Queen Production Laboratory. Field days have been performed in the municipalities of Itaiópolis, Irineópolis, Matos Costa and Porto União with the participation of 159 beekeepers. The dissemination of the regional experience, the technique and the importance of replacing queens with the use of selected genetic material was addressed in lectures at the Beekeepers of Santa Catarina Meeting in the years of 2011 and 2015, the Regional Beekeeping Seminar in São Bento do Sul in 2015, the Regional Beekeeping Seminar in Canoinhas in 2015, and the Regional Beekeeping Seminar in Videira in 2016. Excursions from the Beekeeping associtations CIRP, ARPROMEL and the Seara Rural Family House have already been received in the laboratory for visits and field days. Another technique for promoting the practice is through workshops and trainings, as was the case of the Molina Beekeepers Association, from the Lebon Régis municipality, Epagri technicians, among others.

Near the Videira region, producers from the following municipalities have already received training for the production of queens: Monte Castello, Mafra and Santa Terezinha, which annually produce queens for the replacement of approximately 10% of their hives. More recently, the Molina Beekeeping Association has been adapting the technology, in order to determine queen producers that meet the demand of its members. The beekeepers’ demands, the technicians and the results of increased honey production show that the practice can be adopted by other technical assistance and rural extension institutions, as well as by other beekeepers interested in the selection and production of queens.

 

 

7 -LESSONS LEARNED

 

Even though the beekeepers involved have already acquired full awareness of the importance of this technology, one of the main impediments for a greater number of adherents is the difficulty and lack of security at the time of replacing the old queens with selected ones. Therefore, the need to further develop the replacement methods in partnership with the beekeepers is identified, in order to ensure higher acceptance rates and provide greater security in the carrying out of this practice.

Another obstacle is the technological level of beekeepers in general. There is also the need to tailor the management carried out in the apiaries, such as the exchange of old honeycombs for wax foundation combs, preferably with the use of entire blades. It is also necessary to provide sufficient space for the development and complete expression of the productive capacity of the selected queens by adding nests or hives before the total occupation of the colony. Once these barriers are overcome, it is believed that there will be a greater commitment by interested parties in the production of queens, considering that the positive results of the selection and replacement of the queens in the hives will become more evident. There is also a need for greater cooperation between the actors in research and extension, the beekeepers and their associations, and the research agencies, in order to strengthen the project’s actions and engage a larger number of supporters.

The strategies adopted for the selection and production of queens with the larvae transfer method can be considered a good practice due to the fact that they increase honey productivity and are able to be replicated in family farming properties at a low investment. The expectation for the coming years is the development of a new niche market for beekeepers: the production of queens, in view of the growing demand for this type of product, resulting in improvements in the farmers’ income.

    

8 -THE ORIGINALITY OF THE PRACTICE

The production of queens through the larvae transfer method was initially described in 1889 by Gilbert M. Doolittle. Queen bee selection has been employed and improved for a long time, mainly in Europe and in the United States. In Brazil the studies are more recent. Based on these experiences, Epagri has developed a specific methodology for planning and implementing the practice.  

 

 

 

The best time for visitation is between the months of September and December. The number of visitors for better conduction of the work is of up to 20 people.

 

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