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New Online Program Brings Uniformity and Knowledge to Colony Strength Evaluation

Apiary inspectors prepare to evaluate colony strength during
the pollination season. A new online training course sets
standards for evaluation so that growers know they are
getting the pollination services they need, and beekeepers feel
appropriately compensated for the services they provide.
UCCE agronomy crop advisor Shannon Mueller has developed an online education and training program for assessing the strength of honey bees and colonies that can help almond growers become better-informed consumers when both renting hives from beekeepers and hiring professional apiary inspectors to assess the strength of colonies at pollination.

The tool provides simple and uniform protocols for assessing bee colonies that can be employed by professional inspectors. Furthermore, this online training program allows growers to take advantage of inspection recommendations by better understanding key issues, such as basic bee biology and colony organization; different inspection procedures and standards; and how to recognize some parasites, diseases and other problems that can be encountered.

To develop the Online Colony Assessment learning modules, Mueller solicited input from private beekeepers and bee brokers, county agricultural commissioners and professional apiary inspectors to develop standardized inspection procedures, definitions and the template for assessing honey bee and colony strength. The Almond Board and Project Apis m. provided financial support for the project.

During workshops at the recent Almond Conference, Mueller said understanding the colony evaluation process improves consistency of inspections and can clarify pollination contract expectations.

Colony strength evaluations help ensure almond producers get what they pay for in terms of the number of colonies at a strength specified in the pollination contract, she added. At the same time, the inspections can help ensure that beekeepers are appropriately compensated for additional expenses in providing quality hives for spring pollination.

By using the online assessment, inspectors can uniformly adhere to proper inspection protocols and definitions. It establishes, for instance, the definition of a representative random sample or what constitutes a frame of bees. And growers can use the assessment to determine if inspectors have adhered to those uniform principles.

The online training course offers a set of learning materials, interactive quizzes and skills practice. To access the module, go to the ANR Online Learning home page, hit “Continue” and create a user account. This will allow you to view Honey Bee and Colony Strength Evaluation as a course option for immediate access to the training modules. You can take advantage of training at your convenience because the modules require only short blocks of time, and the course can be revisited for completion and reference.

In addition to frame inspection, the assessment sets uniform standards for assessing colonies using the cluster count method, developed by Robbin Thorp through Almond Board–funded research in the 1980s. There are advantages to cluster counts over frame assessments, which take more time and experience, are more disruptive, and therefore more likely to injure queens.

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