An IPM Series: The Challenges of Integrated Pest Management

Thursday 5 October 2023

In last week’s blog, we discussed how integrated pest management (IPM) is the best practice for beekeepers. Using a variety of strategies to manage pests, as well as limiting the frequency of chemical treatments, is all part of IPM. Although these practices are effective and will provide the best short and long-term results for managing pests and diseases, IPM does come with several challenges that often hinder beekeepers from always taking an IPM approach. In this week’s blog, we will discuss some of these challenges, with a particular focus on Varroa and Nosema management. We will also explain why, despite these challenges, an IPM approach is still the best option.

An IPM Series: The Challenges of Integrated Pest Management

An obstacle for beekeepers when implementing IPM is the perception that following known best practices requires additional resources. For example, one component of IPM is determining if the pest or disease burden exceeds the economic threshold for treatment.  The required travel and sampling time to assess colonies for parasites and pathogens, such as Varroa mites and Nosema (Vairimorpha), has a cost. However, these costs need to be balanced against factors such as maintaining the efficacy of chemical treatments and overall reducing winter losses.  Additionally, there may be actual savings if the testing indicates treatment is unnecessary.  It also must be kept in mind that, in larger yards, a sample of colonies is all that needs to be tested.  The follow up testing, as recommended by IPM practices, to determine the efficacy post treatment will demonstrate the economic value of the application. Additionally, if there are changes in the expected efficacy, the beekeeper needs to be aware and respond appropriately to prevent losses.  So, although the process of testing for pests and diseases is time-consuming, the benefits for both the beekeeper and the industry outweigh these costs.

It is well recognized that in the Maritimes, managing Varroa mites is essential, but one goal of IPM is to limit the frequency of synthetic acaricides to prolong the efficacy of chemical treatments. Blanket treatments with unconfirmed efficacy are not good practice. This concept extends to Nosema treatment as well.  The complexity and requirement for microscopy in determining treatment levels using an economic threshold may be difficult for some beekeepers.  If individuals are reluctant to commit to this, remember that ATTTA is willing to perform a Nosema test free of charge for any beekeeper that provides samples. So, other than collecting the sample, there is minimal time, effort and money required to test the economic threshold of Nosema before and after treatment.

Nosema (Vairimorpha) spores as viewed under a light microscope (400x magnification) during assessment to determine need for treatment (ATTTA©2022).

The associated cost of implementing IPM cultural, physical, and chemical control measures for Varroa mites and Nosema is also a consideration. In combination with regular monitoring for pests and diseases, best management recommendations will include cultural practices. Examples being a sheltered apiary site, replacing old brood comb, feeding bees during dearth periods, providing winter protection, replacing old queens, and performing biosecurity practices. All the mentioned cultural practices help promote healthy colonies that are less likely to be susceptible to pests and diseases. This concept applies to physical and chemical control measures. Investing in physical control measures, for example fencing, screen bottom board, cold storage for equipment, drone frames, has initial costs, but that investment will quickly be recovered by preventing colony losses to pests.

There are further factors for consideration when implementing IPM. This is particularly true for mite control measures. For managing Varroa mites there is the option of synthetic (artificially made) or non-synthetic treatment (naturally occurring chemicals such as organic acids and essential oils). With IPM, it is recommended to alternate between a synthetic treatment and a non-synthetic treatment. This practice must be used along with monitoring mite levels.  It must be stated that to just choose an alternative treatment is not in itself IPM.  It would be irresponsible, for example, to change from Apivar to oxalic acid without also monitoring post treatment to ensure efficacy of the new mite control method!  Also, beekeepers must familiarize themselves with any new treatment and consider that some products are temperature dependent or require more than one application. 

Any immediate savings due to not using IPM strategies is a false economy and long-term implications need to be considered.  Despite challenges, IPM is still the best approach for managing pests and diseases. Next week’s blog will explain the importance of IPM in the context of chemical treatments, and why IPM will be essential to our beekeeping industry going forward.

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