Factor Productivity in the Beekeeping Industry: The Impact of Pest Management and Pollination Practices

 

Background

The sharp increase in mortality rate among honeybee hives in recent years has been devastating to beekeepers across the continent.  The losses in honeybee colonies, the beekeeper’s most valuable asset, reached unprecedented levels and left many beekeepers in peril.   This threat triggered a research campaign to examine the underlying causes and find proper ways to combat them.  Most recent studies attributed these losses to the wide spread of bee diseases as well as to the fast developing resistance by some pests to common pesticides that are used for treatment. 

These recent findings underlie the importance of alterative pest management practices for controlling beehive diseases.  Integrated pest management IPM, widely used in agriculture, has also been adopted by many beekeepers.  It employs a variety of other methods (e.g. cultural, physical, mechanical, biological, and genetic methods) that reduce the likelihood of contracting pathogens and keep the use of chemicals at minimum.  Obviously, integrated beekeeping differs from the conventional one not only in chemical input use, but also in the contribution of labour, capital, and material input to the production process.  Labour, for example, is both a damage control and a productive input in integrated beekeeping, whereas is plays little to no role in controlling damage in conventional beekeeping. 

Another important issue that is argued by many to be indirectly affecting bee health and, consequently, their rate of mortality is the excessive use of honeybees for crop pollination.  In fact, a quick look at studies, news reports, and several media programs shows a growing consensus among scientists that excessive commercial pollination is indirectly contributing to the fast spread of diseases across the industry landscape.  The growth in commercial pollination has induced a strong demand for imported bees which inevitably brought with the destructive and ferocious Varroa mite, recently reported to be responsible of the majority of bee deaths in Canada.  It also increased bee susceptibility to diseases due to poor monoculture diet (crop pollens), high stress (migration), and exposure to residues from chemicals used in agricultural production. 

Both conjectural and anecdotal evidences emphasize the importance of re-orienting beekeeping toward more integrated practices, regulating the use of pesticides and chemicals in general, and possibly regulating the use of honeybee for commercial pollination.  Designing effective policies that achieve these goals requires insights into the differences between different pest management systems (conventional vs. integrated), different production systems (no pollination vs. pollination), and combinations thereof.  For example, insights into the difference in productivity of damage control inputs between integrated and conventional systems help beekeepers making decisions about which system to adopt and inform public decision makers about appropriate intervention to promote more environmentally-friendly practices.  Further, the difference in productivity between pollination and no-pollination production systems inform both beekeepers and public decision makers about the costs and benefits to regulating pollination services in order to limit disease spread and bee weakening. .

Objectives

This research’s main objective is to measure the effects of adopting IPM and the decision to render pollination services on operation’s productivity.  To gauge these effects, we must control for the unobservable heterogeneity between beekeepers who adopt different pest management systems and pollination practices as it could be correlated with productivity.  Examples of such heterogeneity include differences in beekeepers’ managerial ability, risk preferences, short-run labour and capital constraints, and financial leverage.