Our Breeding Program

Honey Bee's Are Under Attack

Our breeding program has at its core a single element, Apis mellifera (The Western Honey Bee), which is under attack.

There are very few insects in the world that have so much notoriety and effect on our food supply than the honey bee. Of course, we depend on them for honey, but we also rely on them for approximately 33% of the total food supply; worldwide.

This means that if the honey bee dies, we will not have as a variety and totality of food available as we do now. The pollination used by honey bees worldwide is incredible.

Due to the complexities of the world around us, honey bees continue to die at an alarming rate. According to a survey done by the Bee Informed Partnership, recently in a 2020/21 survey, average yearly losses in Idaho were 59.7% (Bee Informed Partnership Loss Map). Average losses in the United States ranged from 33.1% to 76.7% – and it is not just the United States; worldwide losses are around 30%.

According to a research survey conducted by COLOSS: “loss rates of honey bee colonies during winter 2016/2017 from 27 European countries plus Algeria, Israel and Mexico, obtained with the COLOSS questionnaire…”

There findings? “This results in an overall loss rate of 20.9% (95% CI 20.6–21.3%) of honey bee colonies during winter 2016/2017…”

20.9% of colonies died during the winter of 2016/2017. (Multi-country loss rates of honey bee colonies during winter 2016/2017 from the COLOSS survey)

Some estimate that worldwide total yearly losses are over 30%. (YaleEnvironment360- Declining Bee Populations Pose A Threat To Global Agriculture)

The industry and commercial beekeepers feel these real effects. However, due to the incredible rate at which honey bees can grow and split, the industry can counteract these death tolls by splitting (creating two colonies from one) the hive every year to recoup last year’s losses.

Long term, this is not a viable solution, and it still does not solve the death rate dilemma; it does not answer the ‘why’ – the chemicals, antibiotics, and treatments used to keep losses at bay are not doing much. They most likely are one of the contributing factors to the problem.

These two charts isolate Idaho’s total average colony losses from 2010/11 to 2020/21 using the Bee Informed Partnership survey. Overall, looking at the linear trendline and polynomial trendlines for a 5-year projection, colony loss is trending up. So we are likely to see things get worse if nothing changes in the way we manage honey bee colonies. 

According to a research paper by Hartpury College, they wrote: “Numerous commercially available acaricides and their active substances have been shown to have negative effects on honey bee brood development, queen and drone reproductive health, learning, longevity and colony strength…”

So-called ‘organic’ treatments are no more helpful. The same research paper wrote: “A study on humans showed that formic acid, oxalic acid and thymol added to honey significantly affected its taste (133). Could residues over sensory levels harm bees? This, among other questions, remain to be resolved with further research. So far, it has been demonstrated that formic acid induces aversion in worker bees (91, 122) and that formic and oxalic acids affect the pH Effects of synthetic and organic acaricides on honey bee health: a review 133 of honey stores (81). As of present, little is known about the potential effects of pesticide residues on overwintering bees (134)…” (Effects Of Synthetic and Organic Acaricides On Honey Bee Health: A Review)

Still, as you know, with so much on the line for food consumption worldwide that depends on honey bees – the industry needs a solution before pulling the plug on chemical use within hives or making extensive modifications to management style – or hive losses may very well scale out of control.

Our Breeding Program

This brings us to our local breeding program at Emmett Royal Honey, which focuses on solid genetics, targeted selection, tested results, hive ecology, and a completely chemical, antibiotic, and treatment-free apiary.

To solve the problem, we need to remove the crutch and allow honey bees to develop natural resistance to pesticides, stronger adaptation to weather changes, resistance to pests & disease, and overall a ‘stronger’ honey bee.

One of the things we utilize is instrumental insemination and controlled natural breeding to accomplish this. We manage and test for traits and run measurable tests to determine genetic prowess and ‘natural traits.’ Then, we match these with a diversified pool of genetic markers within the mates.

In simple terms, we allow the honey bees to thrive naturally in the world around us, develop resistance without synthetic or unnatural crutches, and pick/breed bees that show superior natural resistance and vigor.

Our program is not a factory. It’s always quality first. For natural breeding, we set up drone saturated areas from strong genetic stock. This requires around 80,000 drones circling our mating yards for every 100 queens. This allows us to get an extremely high result for targeted genes for every queen. 

We also allow our queens to stay in their mating nuc till she is at least 28 days old. Even a week or two longer if she is inseminated. This is about 1 – 2 weeks longer laying time than what is standard in the industry. Research shows that longer laying times dramatically increase queen results (Queen honey bee introduction and early survival – effects of queen age at introduction).

We also do NOT bank our queens.   Research shows that banking harms overall queen performance and increases injuries to queens that are banked (Effect Of Injury To HoneyBee Queens On Egg Laying Rate And Colony Strength) as her stress increases as she pauses egg-laying (also, no time in nature does the queen stop eggs laying other when she swarms). This affects pheromone output as well.  The goal is to remove her from her hive, and input her into her new hive, to be accepted and only have a brood break of around 72 hours ( which is much closer to a natural swarm brood break). Again, quality first, not quantity.

Also, with all our hives – there are no chemicals used or antibiotics. This greatly increases sperm count in drones and increases the quality of the queen’s produced. 

Our breeding process mixed with our ‘queen code.’ We aim to be one of the best queen breeding programs in the county. The main focus is increasing success with pollination, overall health, and hive survivable rates.