CLAYTON — Bayer CropScience opened a research facility in Johnston County on Monday dedicated to finding ways to save the honeybee population, which has been declining at an alarming rate over the past seven years.
Researchers have cited various causes for the disappearing bees, but beekeepers continue to see their hives dwindle.
Dick Rogers, manager of Bayer’s North American Bee Care Center, said the losses affect a wide swath of the food supply – everything from apples to blueberries to alfalfa sprouts and onions.
“Bees are our most important pollinators of some of our most valuable, nutritious fruit, nut and vegetable crops,” said Rogers, who will oversee research at the site.
Bayer employs about 500 workers on its Research Triangle Park campus and about 140 employees in three other Triangle locations, including Clayton. In May, the company broke ground on its North American Bee Care Center in RTP. That facility is expected to be complete by spring.
Researchers at the Clayton facility will experiment with natural and synthetic approaches to managing bee populations and keeping them healthy and pollinating properly. The site will also be an educational center for students at nearby universities. The 1,200 square-foot facility sits on 278 acres off N.C. Hwy. 42 East.
It will feature several hives outside in an area the researchers fondly call “Beesboro.” There’s also an indoor lab where graduate students can join Bayer researchers to conduct experiments and a wintering cold room that resembles a walk-in refrigerator for storing hives.
“Apiculture (the study of bees) is an integral part of agriculture that must continue to grow to meet the needs of an increasing global population,” said Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP.
Rogers said a combination of factors are hurting honeybees – parasites, pathogens, predators, nutritional deficiencies and severe weather events have all contributed to their declining numbers. Particularly damaging is a parasitic bee mite called the Varroa destructor that plagues bees in the same way that ticks harm humans.
Some of the research performed in Clayton will be devoted to finding ways to protect the bees from the parasite and examining what makes certain bees vulnerable to the predator.
Other research will look at how to control bee populations. That could include studying repellents to pretreat a backyard to keep out bees, or to keep them off certain crops temporarily.
Chemicals banned in EU
The struggle to protect honeybees is not just in America. The European Commission has taken one of the boldest steps to protect honeybees, prohibiting the use of a certain pesticide that contains neonicotonoids, which some studies have linked to bee health. The ban goes into effect in December.
Bayer CropScience produces the pesticide and has sued the European Commission over its decision to ban the product.
Bayer CropScience began studying honeybee health in Clayton three years ago. The Clayton location is also used to conduct product development testing for other Bayer consumer agriculture products, including pest control and turf management.