The buzz about North Carolina’s agricultural biotechnology leadership got louder Wednesday when Bayer CropScience broke ground on its North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park.
Some 80 Bayer CropScience specialists, civic leaders and industry leaders gathered to celebrate the start of the 6,000-square-foot building committed to bee health and well-being.
When completed around the end of 2013, it will be similar to a center built in 2012 at the joint headquarters campus of Bayer CropScience and Bayer Animal Health in Monheim, Germany.
Designed to LEED silver environmental-efficiency standards, the RTP bee care center will be a gathering place for researchers, bee experts, students, Bayer scientists and others to collaborate on bee health. It’s on the Alexander Drive campus that serves as the German company’s North American headquarters, near its recent $20 million, 60,000-square-foot R&D greenhouse expansion for the development of new plant seeds.
“The Bee Care Center is the latest example of our dedication to sustainable agriculture, and we hope to continue to provide the research necessary to ensure the health of colonies and honey bees around the world,” said Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience.
“Our scientists are working to help solve some of the most pressing honey bee health problems, as their importance to the global food supply cannot be overstated.”
It’s well known that Americans rely on hard-working immigrants for their food, but most people don’t think of honey bees among those indispensable laborers from abroad. Richard E.L. Rogers, Bayer entomologist/apiologist in charge of the RTP bee health program, called bees “the spark plugs of agriculture.”
Virtually all agricultural crops are pollinated by honey bees, which are not native to the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says every third mouthful of food we eat results from honey bee pollination. That includes all the fruits; nuts except peanuts, which are legumes; our grains; even the flowers that adorn our tables.
But bees are in trouble. One of the speakers at the groundbreaking, John Ambrose, Ph.D., a North Carolina State University entomology professor, told the crowd that numerous challenges, from habitat destruction and climate change to mite invasions and improper use of pesticides are contributing to steep declines in honey bee populations.
He said that 40 years ago, America had some 5.5 million honey bee colonies. Today, that’s down to about 3.5 million.
North Carolina’s “feral” bee colonies have been wiped out by mites, said Ambrose. The state’s domesticated bee losses, however, have been less severe than some in other major agricultural states. About 98 percent of the beekeepers in our state are hobbyists with about 10 or fewer colonies, he said.
But California almond growers alone require 1.5 million colonies to pollinate their trees – colonies that can become stressed when keepers transport them over long distances.
Bayer’s new RTP bee care center is to be a hub for research collaboration to help humans understand and solve bee health problems. It will have a full laboratory and teaching apiary; honey extraction and workshop space; an interactive learning center; and meeting, training and presentation facilities for beekeepers, farmers and educators, as well as office space for graduate students.
Although the North American Bee Care Center will have its own honey bee colonies for teaching and demonstration purposes, the facility will be supported by other area, including Bayer’s expanding Clayton research apiary, known as “Beesboro.”
That 1,200-square-foot building will open by the end of this summer with an office, a wintering cold room, extraction area, bee hive maintenance area and storage areas.
(C) NC Biotech Center