Migratory Beekeeping – What Is It And How Does It Affect Bees?

Migratory beekeeping is the practice of moving beehives to different locations to promote the pollination of specific crops.

How Does Migratory Beekeeping Work?

Plants reproduce when pollen, found in male parts (or male plants), reach the female parts (or plants) and fertilize eggs that turn into seeds.

Many plants have both female and male parts, while others have female or male plants.

Because plants can’t move, they release the pollen and elements in their environment like the wind, water and insects spread it around until it reaches a female flower.

While wind and water can help pollen travel far and wide, it’s estimated that the majority of these flowers reproduce with the help of insects – and the majority of those insects are bees!

Hence the importance of bees and beekeeping.

A row of beehives in a field of a farm

On a typical day, a worker bee visits hundreds of flowers to gather nectar and pollen – essential resources for their colony.

As they collect pollen, they also leave some behind, allowing it to reach the female reproductive parts of plants.

So, what happens when there are not enough native bees to pollinate crops important for human consumption like fruits and vegetables?

Farmers can let the crops slowly decrease or ask for help.

Here’s where migratory beekeepers enter the picture.

This type of beekeepers care for large amounts of bee colonies and move them to different crops so their bees can promote the pollination and growth of these plants.

If you already own a beehive, you already know that a beehive full of bees can be very heavy and hard to transport.

To overcome this obstacle, migratory beekeepers have special equipment that allows them to quickly move multiple beehives at a time.

They keep their hives on pallets that securely fit multiple Langstroth hives with up to 9 or 10 frames.

There are pallets designed to hold 4,6, and even 8 beehives. However, the 4 and 6 beehive configurations are the most common.

The pallets, also known as 4-ways or 6-ways, are moved with the help of a forklift onto the flatbed of a truck to drive them across different locations.

The decision of where to take the bees usually depends on the nectar flow, the growing cycle of crops, climate, and time of the year.

 

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Migratory Beekeeping

Migratory beekeeping is beneficial to agriculture and the economy as a whole.

Through pollination, farmers can increase the production of their crops and supply enough quantity for people to eat.

Additionally, it gives beekeepers another way to earn money.

However, it also has its downsides – most of them related to bees and the effect this activity has on them.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Promotes growth of different crops  Nectar and pollen collected by bees are less diverse  
Provides long periods of nectar and pollen for the bees as they move around according to the nectar flow  Requires additional spending on specialized equipment like pallets, forklifts and trucks  
Provides an additional stream of income for beekeepersIt can be detrimental to bees’ health due to the stress of constant transportation and the spread of disease.  

Is Migratory Beekeeping Bad For Bees?

As migratory beekeeping became a more popular activity, the debate of whether it’s good or bad for bees also grew.

Many experts in the field have pointed out the many factors that contribute to the decrease of honeybee populations, including migratory beekeeping.

From the moment they are put on trucks to the moment they are released at their destination, this practice can create many problems for bees.

The transportation itself can be very stressful as they are suddenly enclosed in their hives for hours, even days at a time.

Because they are not allowed out for long periods, they cannot do regular activities like forage, drink water, or even poop.

Because they can’t forage, the food they get on the road is mostly sugar syrup and patties, which offer some nutritional value but can’t replace the real thing.

They also travel in large flatbed trucks among 400-500 beehives during the hottest months of the year, making it hard for them to regulate the temperature in their hives.

Once they arrive at their destination, they come in contact with millions of bees from other colonies allowing the spread of disease.

While they will be allowed to forage in large flowering fields, most of these sites will consist of a single crop, and the nutrition they get is not as diverse.

Most crops are also treated with heavy pesticides that are harmful even to us.

While the benefit of crop pollination by bees is undeniable, we can’t turn a blind eye to the potential harm it brings to these fantastic creatures.

Migratory Beekeeping Blurs The Lines For Veganism

I’ve begun to see more people choosing a vegan lifestyle.

While many see the line between vegan and non-vegan products pretty clear (is it plant-based or not). There are many cases where drawing this line can be complicated.

Beekeeping seems to be one of those cases where not all vegans think alike, for example, whether honey is considered vegan or not.

Some include it in their diets as it comes from plants, but others think it’s not vegan because it requires the labor of bees to be made.

Unfortunately, migratory beekeeping makes things more challenging in this respect.

For vegans who wouldn’t consume honey for that reason, migratory beekeeping will make many plant-based products, like almond milk, fruits, and vegetable, non-vegan.

Final Thoughts

Migratory beekeeping is when beekeepers transport their beehives to supply crops with pollinating insects to promote growth.

While the benefits of migratory beekeeping for agriculture are clear, many are bringing up the detrimental effects this practice has on the honeybee population.

Additionally, it makes complex debates like veganism all the more complicated.

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