Alfalfa Leaf Cutting Bee Producer Guide to the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard
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Why a National Standard?

The National Bee Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard forms the basis of a comprehensive voluntary program designed to provide practical guidance for owners or managers involved in the three main Canadian bee sectors; honey bees, alfalfa leafcutting bees, and bumblebees.

The objective of a National Standard is to provide a consistent, country-wide approach to the implementation of biosecurity practices for both small- and large-scale operations. The development of farm-level biosecurity standards is a national initiative within and across agriculture industries, including both animals and plants. Beekeeping was identified as a priority sector for the development of a voluntary farm-level biosecurity Standard.

Value of the Canadian Bee Industry

Many crops are reliant on pollination by managed bee species. The pollination value of bees, including alfalfa leafcutting bees, is difficult to estimate, but is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Alfalfa leafcutting bees are used to pollinate alfalfa seed fields in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba – a crop that is valued at $40 million. Alfalfa leafcuttingbees also provide about half of the pollination required for hybrid canola seed production – a crop that is valued at $325 million in farm-gate receipts annually – along with other legume seed crops and lowbush blueberries.

Who is this document for?

The National Standard has been developed as a tool for all people and businesses handling and keeping bees. This Producer Guide provides practical guidance to alfalfa leafcutting beekeepers on how a series of target outcomes, associated with each topic covered by the National Standard, may be achieved.

What is biosecurity and why is it important?

Farm-level biosecurity is a series of management practices that are designed to minimize the introduction and spread of disease-causing pathogens, parasites, insect pests, and predators (referred collectively as pests) onto, within, and beyond the farm.

An effective biosecurity program is based on the understanding and application of measures to minimize the transmission of pests in animal and plant populations, including their introduction (bioexclusion), spread within the populations (biomanagement), and release (biocontainment). When a component of the program has a weakness, or where biosecurity measures are not fully implemented, it provides a route by which pests might enter or remain in a bee population.

The risk of exposing healthy bees to pests occurs when infected or infested bees, or equipment, are introduced to an operation. This can occur through intentional introductions or unintentional mixing of bees from other operations. Training, monitoring, preventative management practices (including equipment and facilities design), and timely treatment interventions are necessary to mitigate these risks.

Canadian Loose Bee Cell Management System

The loose bee cell management system, developed in Canada and used by Canadian producers of alfalfa leafcutting bees, is the cornerstone of leafcutting bee biosecurity management in this country. This system requires that bee cells are extracted from nests, allowing for treatment and sanitation practices to be followed for bees and bee equipment, thus enabling the control of biosecurity risks, including pathogens, parasites, and insect pests.

What are the benefits?

Some of the potential benefits of enhanced biosecurity management to the industry and individual beekeeping operations are as follows:

  • less risk of exposure, introduction, and spread of pests
  • less time and money spent on treatments
  • better bee reproduction by healthier bees
  • reduction in bee mortality during storage
  • improved domestic and international marketability of bee cells
  • improved reputation for healthy bees; a benefit if selling bee cells, used equipment, or providing pollination services
  • less chance of developing treatment resistance
  • less chance of devastation from the introduction of a new risk
  • improved ability to trace back the sources of pests and thus apply management practices to other at-risk bees in a beekeeper's operation.
  • continuation of inter-provincial and international trade if there were a serious outbreak elsewhere
  • avoiding unnecessary management through appropriate pest monitoring, testing, and treatment evaluation.
  • earlier detection of biosecurity risks
  • less risk of errors when administering treatments
  • less time spent on equipment repair and replacement
  • preventing entry of rodents that can cause damage to bee equipment, consume bee cells, and increase susceptibility to pests
  • reducing exposure of bee cells to unfavourable temperature, humidity, and air circulation conditions during storage
  • preventing the degradation of treatment products
  • improving cleaning and disinfection efficacy.
  • less time and money spent on treatments
  • less requirement for culling equipment and supplies

Document development

The background work that was carried out for the National Bee Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard and respective producer guides prioritized the biosecurity interventions that have the most effect on reducing the risk of spread of contagious pests. This program is based on clear and scientifically justified principles. It details a range of measures that are intended to prevent pests from entering or leaving a location where bees are kept. The Standard addresses management practices that promote general bee health.

A set of target outcomes, described in this guide, were developed with significant contributions from representatives of the various beekeeping sectors, including the Bee Biosecurity Advisory Committee BeeBAC, whose membership represents all potential users of this document. The Committee identified areas of practical effective controls, using an objective, impartial approach that drew on published research, existing regulations, recognized management practice manuals, and treatment recommendations.

Development of the Standard and Producer Guides involved participation, consultation, and review from

  • all provincial apiarists
  • producer associations
  • The Canadian Honey Committee (CHC)
  • alfalfa leafcutting bee industry associations (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba)
  • bumblebee industry experts and researchers
  • Office of Animal Biosecurity (Canadian Food Inspection Agency [CFIA])

Direct producer input was achieved through

  • a series of on-farm case studies.
  • comprehensive management practice benchmark consultations. All identified active producers in the honey bee and alfalfa leafcutting bee sectors in Canada were invited to participate. Over 600 honey beekeepers (10% of over 6000 beekeepers) and 86 alfalfa leafcutting bee producers participated (28% of over 300 producers).
  • selected interviews with suppliers and users of bumblebees for pollination of greenhouse and field crops.
  • selected participation in document review teams.

How should this document be used?

The alfalfa leafcutting bee industry is dynamic. Undoubtedly, new strategies, products, and techniques to combat pathogens, parasites, and insect pests will evolve as the science behind beekeeping continues to advance. New risks will emerge. This document should therefore be considered a living document. The onus is on producers to continually update their knowledge and to consider current recommendations when implementing biosecurity management practices in their operation.

This Producer Guide does not provide a full and complete listing of all methods that can be used to address alfalfa leafcutting bee biosecurity, but it does include some existing beneficial practices and other examples to facilitate meeting the Target Outcomes of the National Bee Farm Level Biosecurity Standard, while providing the flexibility required for a variable and complex beekeeping industry.

Not all of these principles will be applicable or practical for every situation, or every beekeeper.

Beekeepers should focus on achieving a satisfactory level of control in each component on their farm. However, for those who are new to the concept of biosecurity, those with limited resources, or where it is not practical or applicable to fully achieve each of the target outcomes, the Producer Guide provides a set of examples of measures that can be taken to meet the Target Outcomes.

This guide is meant to complement, not replace other resources such as alfalfa leafcutting bee production manuals, fact sheets, and recommendations from associations and alfalfa leafcutting bee specialists.

Keeping this in mind, the National Bee Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard and this Producer Guide have been organized into two sections.

  1. Bee Health Management
  2. Operations Management

Each section is subsequently divided into subsections that are introduced by a Target Outcome. Each Target Outcome represents a goal that all beekeepers, regardless of the size of their operation, should try to implement to protect their bees from introduction and spread of pathogens, parasites, and insect pests.

This is followed by a detailed description of the biosecurity topic, including applicable definitions.

Next, there is an explanation of the risks associated with the subtopics.

We describe the recommended practices used to reduce exposure or otherwise mitigate the impact of these risks. Finally, the suggested record-keeping processes are detailed.

Appendix A provides a list of additional resources, some regionally specific information, for farm-level bee biosecurity. Appendix B lists the provincial contacts. Appendix C provides a sampling protocol, and Appendix D outlines disinfection techniques.

Appendix E is a sample record-keeping spreadsheet. Appendix F includes an annual beekeeping cycle diagram, as it relates to biosecurity practices, providing a visual reminder of how these practices fit into a beekeeping operation. Appendix G is the biosecurity checklist for alfalfa leafcutting bees. Appendix H lists the names and affiliations of BeeBAC members and Project Advisors.

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