July 8, 2021

A Close Look At The 2020-2021 BIP Annual Loss Survey (029)

A Close Look At The 2020-2021 BIP Annual Loss Survey  (029)

How many colonies had to be replaced last year? How many in winter, summer, total? How many beekeepers were surveyed? How many commercial operations, how many sideline operations, and how many hobby beekeepers? It used to be called the annual colony...

How many colonies had to be replaced last year? How many in winter, summer, total? How many beekeepers were surveyed? How many commercial operations, how many sideline operations, and how many hobby beekeepers? It used to be called the annual colony loss survey, but even that has changed because one thing they have found is that colony counts aren’t decreasing, because they are replaced, and are now considered turnovers, not losses.   The Bee Informed Colony Management survey went looking for the answers to these questions, and more in their 15th annual survey and the preliminary results are in.

The value of this survey, and the information that you can get out of it is incredible, if you use it the right way if you are having the same kinds of problems, or successes these beekeepers are having.

This time, Kim and Jim take a look at the some of the data, putting it into everyday beekeeping language that everybody can use. Varroa, of course is a major issue, but not for everybody. Queen issues the same, some replace annually, some never, at least on purpose. Queens, you know, are the second biggest problem Kim and Jim have every year. What about you? Is summer a greater loss period than winter? What can be done about any of these issues? Can you change the way you are doing things to reduce your annual turnover?

Everybody, it seems, is more or less in the same boat. But the data here is good for planning for the coming winter, next spring, next summer, where to get queens. All the info is in the preliminary report, and will be explained in detail when the full report is released. Stay tuned!

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:


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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

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Honey Bee Obscura


Episode 29 – A Close Look At The 2020-2021 BIP Annual Loss Survey


[background music]


Kim Flottum: Hey, Jim. I just got a copy of the BIP Colony Loss Survey for last year. Have you seen it yet?

Jim Tew: Kim, I have seen that. I've been studying that and trying to review it. It takes some time to get through that, but it's good information.

Kim: It is, and there are some things in there that I found more interesting this year than in previous ones. Let's take a quick look at it. Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: This is Honey Bee Obscura [music] and today, we're going to talk about the BIP, it's the Bee Informed Partnership, called the annual Colony Loss Survey. It just came out, and if you're at all interested in the industry or are a part of, you should probably take a look at it, too.

Jim: It is a great source of information.


Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura. Brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world and engaging an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Jim: No disrespect at all to BIP. You study it now because it's good numbers, and they're useful numbers, and they relate to each other.

Kim: Yes, and it's come across the board and everybody wants to know what's the worst thing that happened last year, how many colonies did we lose, and there's a point of clarification that needs to be made here right at the very beginning, Jim. We haven't lost these colonies because they've all been replaced. Beekeepers lose a colony and they replace it by a split, buying a nuc or a package. When we say colony losses, what we're actually referring to is colony turnovers, and that's how BIP wants us to look at this. It's the colonies didn't leave and go away and not come back, the colonies left and were replaced, so what we ended up at the end of the year pretty much reflects what was there at the beginning of the year.

Jim: I have no idea if it's like forestry, but it's like you take out part of the trees in your wood lot, let the others come back, and you're always regrowing trees and taking trees out. It's not like you're clearcutting, you're managing.

Kim: Yes, pretty much. The number that people are looking for, though, comes out to how many people were surveyed, because that's going to reflect on some of the data that's here. Then, how many colony turnovers were there last year? Those are the two numbers that people are really interested in, that I was really interested in. They had just over 3,300 beekeepers in the US take the survey, running about a 192,000 colonies, which comes to about 7% of the estimated 2.71 million managed honey-producing colonies in the country. That's the base that we're working at. We're making all these numbers based on that population of beekeepers running that population of bees.

Jim: That's all a matter of perspective, isn't it? On one hand, 7% means that 93% were not there. On the other hand, since these numbers are so large, bigger than I can comprehend, that 7% represents almost 200,000 colonies. That's a lot of beehives.

Kim: Yes, it is.

Jim: If you look at the whole country, 2.71 million managed colonies, that's a lot of beehives piled up in one place, that's just turmoil enough. Generating, dying, replacing, turning over, there's a lot of action going on. Those are big numbers.

Kim: I'm guessing-- not even guessing, I know that there more colonies in California during almond pollination and got worked into this survey, which is both unfortunate, and at least it gives you a feel for the size of the population we're dealing with. Here's the thing. They measure these turnovers in winter and summer. How many colonies do you lose in the summer?

Jim: Kim, I saw that and I lose colonies in the summer, but this is unusual, it's rare, it's neglect on my part, it's a queen that died that didn't get back in time. I saw that they monitored summer losses.

Kim: The thing that interested me the most was that summer losses for commercial beekeepers in this survey had over 40% of turnover for their summer losses. 40%.

Jim: 40% in that commercial category, and the hobbyist and the sideline beekeepers were like me. What's happening? Well, clearly, those commercial guys are moving, working, using those beehives throughout the summer, and mine are not being exposed to those risks at that time.

Kim: Then you take a look at winter losses, and that's where I've always expected- what's the word I want, the worst survivorship.

Jim: Yes, that's when I have my finest hour, Kim. My finest hour for bee kills in winter is winter.

Kim: [laughs] 30%, 32% of the bees that were surveyed turned over in the winter. That's commercial, and sideline, and hobby, 30%. Most beekeepers are looking at an acceptable loss of about 20%, so it's higher than most people think is acceptable but, overall, 30% is not bad in terms of what the things that we're going through.

Jim: You just have to love beekeepers, don't you? I'm saying that if the rates die off about 35%, then I'd be happy with 20%. If the rate were 20% die-off, I'd probably be happy with 7%, so I'm going to keep adjusting that number downward slightly, but the bottom line, Kim, is this. We have accepted the fact that a lot of our bees die every year, and they've always died every year. I've always known that the colony numbers and my little apiary are relative numbers. When someone says, "How many hives do you have?" I'll say, "Whatever number it is, 15,20," but I'll know at any given moment, it's 18, maybe 22. It's always an average. There's going to always be some that are living and dying, and thriving and not thriving.

Kim: Yes, my answer is always, "At the moment, I have--"


Jim: Yes, "At this moment, to my knowledge, I think I probably have--" You weasel word that number every time, because all over the world, that number varies, especially in areas where those bees migrate.


Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline, "A beekeeper serving beekeepers." See for yourself at betterbee.com.

Kim: The other thing that shows up here is the annual loss of all of these groups, backyard, sideline, and commercial. Backyard beekeepers this year kind of had a bad year. It's almost 60% annual loss. Now, that's summer and winter and everything in between combined, they all replaced, but if you got to replace 6 out of 10 colonies, how many years are you going to do that? I know that there's somebody in everybody's household who's listening to this and says, "I thought we were going to make money doing this." [laughs]

Jim: Yes, I know those people. I know them well, Kim.

Kim: We begin to look at 60% turnover every year, and it's money out and money out and money out and money out and then maybe a little money in, but it's got to be tough. The big picture's got to be tough.

Jim: I don't speak for anyone. I am not necessarily in that 7%, but what that perpetual die-off effect has been on me is I have reduced, reduced, reduced, reduced my colony numbers. When I was a younger man, I had my brothers and I had 400 hives, and I probably have 15 right now. As it has become so difficult to keep bees alive and expensive to buy them, I just keep fewer and fewer colonies. I'm not the only one doing that.

Kim: The thing about that is you lose 20% of 50 colonies. That's the number, it's 10. It is 20% of 5 colonies. You've lost far fewer colonies, but the percentage is the same.

Jim: Yes.

Kim: You got to work that into how you digest this data here.

Jim: It's really interesting numbers. You know the main thing this whole 13-page report did, Kim, is it reassured me that I'm not alone here, that my numbers and my experience, and my abilities is not unique. I mean, I'm surrounded by people who are fighting the same battle and losing it about as often as I am.

Kim: There's comfort in numbers, huh?

Jim: There's comfort in misery, forget the numbers.


Jim: It's really an interesting read that goes through this whole thing.

Kim: The other thing I was looking at was the numbers by state. They got the US map here, and they've got the numbers by state. The old rule that most of the beekeepers in the US are east to the Mississippi, and most of the bees are west to the Mississippi, when you look at the numbers west of the Mississippi, the percentage loss, they range anywhere from 20 to 50.

When you look at the range of the colonies east of the Mississippi, the numbers are generally much higher, but is that because there are more beekeepers so you got more numbers, you're able to get more numbers, or is that because the losses in the east were higher? I'm thinking East Coast beekeepers are going to probably be more on the sideline to hobby range than the sideline to commercial range. Out West, there's a lot more commercial beekeepers, because there's more land. You and I are in Ohio. We had a 40.6% loss last year.

Jim: Yes and we're surrounded. Michigan had actually had 51%. I have to agree with you, Kim, that we got to be careful here. What? Can I say more in experience? Because these commercial guys, they do this for a living. They do this every day. I mean, going out working bees isn't a hobby, this is something they do for a living, so they're really in tune with it. I suppose that's what it is. Is it simply because there's more people so there's better data? These are all BIP questions, Kim.

Kim: Yes. I'd like to see the numbers of respondents per state. That would tell a lot, I think, and there'll be on our webpage links to this report. When all of this data is put together in a publishable paper, that'll be subject to review. That'll come out later, probably early next year is our guess, but when that comes out, you'll be able to go get that also, and then take a hard look at good data as good as it's going to get. That's been assessed and evaluated, so look for those links on our webpage so you can get this report when it's ready.

Jim: Kim, now, I want to say that's good information, Kim, because these are hard numbers to follow. I mean, I can imagine someone sitting in their car right now trying to follow what percent happened here and what percent happened there, but this is good to digestible information. This is good to know. This is good to project what your costs are going to be, what your labor input's going to be. This makes you a better beekeeper, if you have an idea of where you've been, where you are, and where you can expect to go based on the trend line that this data develops.

Kim: Yes, I can see if you can expect to lose 40% of your bees every year, do you increase the number of bees that you have so a 40% loss doesn't do anything? Or, do you always have 40% in the back of your mind someplace ready to go? You got a nuc sitting there or whatever.

Jim: Well, I think about that beekeeper that you and I have always talked to, that hypothetical beekeeper. What am I doing wrong? 40%, half my bees have died. What am I doing wrong? Well, in most cases, you're not doing anything any more incorrect than any of the rest of us. It's just what those numbers are.

Kim: Well, I'll tell you what people are doing wrong, and this report points it out. Varroa is the biggest problem far and away. Varroa is the biggest problem. Commercials, sideline beekeepers reported that over 60% of their losses were due to Varroa. I mean, that kind of makes it pretty simple. Control Varroa and your losses are going to go down. Now, that means that there's a lot of things that are involved in controlling Varroa.

Not only timely applications, raising bees that are resistant and, again, timely applications. Measuring, measuring, measuring, measuring, measuring how many Varroa do you have in your colony and what do you have to do to reduce that number? That's the pure and simple answer to all of this, is control Varroa, and a lot of this is going to go away.

Jim: Yes, go ahead. I wanted to give the second point because I'm eager to hear the second point, too. Two big things keep us from thriving. Number one was Varroa. What was number two?

Kim: Queen issues.

Jim: Queen issues.

Kim: Yes. From a commercial perspective, almost as bad as the Varroa. Queen issues cause colony losses, or contributed to colony losses, or contributed to weakening a colony so that it would die from something, but the queen issues were the challenge that made the colony weaker, especially commercial. Least of all, the hobby beekeepers had queen issues. I suspect that that's probably because they're not doing lots of splitting and lots of all of the things that when you're managing a colony, to replace all those numbers that you've lost. You're not challenging the queens nearly as much.

Jim: Where can you find this information again now? We've talked about it, we've talked around it, we've talked all over it. Where can the listeners go to specifically get this information?

Kim: Hang on for half a second. I got one more thing on queen issues, is how many people replaced their queens last year? Half of the backyard people did, 99% of the commercial people did.

Jim: Half did?

Kim: Yes, half replaced their queens on the backyard level, probably 80% of the sideliners, and 99% of the commercial people replaced their queens. Yet, the losses reflect something else going on. I don't know how you make sense of this. Now, I'll get back to your question. How do you get ahold of this report? That link for this report is going to be on our webpage. It's going to be on the Beekeeping Today Podcast webpage, and I'm going to bet that it'll be in the journals, the links to find all of this information and certainly on the BIP webpage.

Jim: Well, I enjoy looking at it. Enjoy is an operative word there.

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: I'm informed, I'm educated about looking at it. Sometimes, it can be revealing. I don't want to say shocking, but there it is. It's good read if you want to be a well-rounded, knowledgeable beekeeper.

Kim: Yes, and maybe a lot more successful if you know going in, but the problems you have to solve are to keep your bees alive and healthy. I want to say one other thing. Last Monday, Jeff and I talked to BIP people about this very thing, and we looked at some of these questions that you and I have just brought up. Some of them, we got answered and some of them we didn't, so if you want more information from the BI people directly, tune in to the Beekeeping Today Podcast from last Monday.

Jim: We're good. Good.

Kim: Have we worn this out? It's worn me out.

Jim: When I stop talking, I'll think, "Well, we didn't bring that up. We didn't mention whatever," but hey, people, just have a look at the report when it comes out. Have a look at the preliminary report. We know you're out there. You wouldn't be listening to this if you weren't an energetic beekeeper, so go tune this out and check it out. It's good information.

Kim: That's good advice. Thanks, Jim.

Jim: All right, till next Thursday, Kim.

Kim: All right, take it easy. Stay warm, by the way.

Jim: Stay warm.

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: That has not been a problem.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: All right. Bye-bye.

[00:18:33] [END OF AUDIO]