Russian Honeybee Breeders Association, Inc.
The idea of a Russian Bee Breeders Association was conceived in the late 1990s. Members of the USDA Agricultural Research Service Baton Rouge bee lab and industry cooperators foresaw the value and need for such a group. They desired an industry based organization dedicated to maintaining and improving those lines of Russian bees being selected from the wide population that was being imported and monitored by the USDA.
At present, we are maintaining, and selecting to improve, seventeen separate lines. These lines are divided into three separate blocks. Those blocks are designated as blocks A, B, and C. We beekeepers are also divided into those three blocks. Each member within a block is currently responsible for annually reproducing populations of two lines from his block, monitoring varroa and tracheal mite populations, monitoring honey production and then selecting the best queens from those colonies. Though other characteristics or traits exhibited in a colony may eliminate it from consideration, our focus remains on those traits, with varroa resistance given top priority.
The following example describes a members duties more fully. Beekeeper ‘Ivan’ is in block A. His breeding responsibilities are focused on two lines within that block, lines A1 and A2. He establishes drone source colonies in an isolated mating yard with queens that he receives from each block B and block C queen breeder. This mating yard therefore is stocked with drone source colonies from all twelve of the B and C block lines. He grafts from selected breeders from block A line 1 and from block A line 2. The cells from these grafts are placed into mating nucs in the isolated mating yard. Once these queens are successfully mated they are marked and clipped. These nucs are then used to set up several yards of 15 or more colonies, the colonies in each of these yards all representing queens from just one of Ivan’s two lines. These colonies may be monitored for one season or they may be monitored for a longer period. Each year Ivan selects from the best of his two lines. Emerging worker bees are then shipped to the USDA ARS Honey Bee Lab in Baton Rouge for certification. The lab has identified molecular genetic markers which distinguish Russian Honey Bees from non-Russian Honey Bees. After being certified Ivan raises daughters from his certified breeder queens. A large number from each line are used to set up yards to monitor for the following years selection. Also, several of these daughter queens are shipped to every other member of the association. Those received by Block B and Block C members mother some of the colonies in their own ’selection’ mating yards. Ivan’s ’teammates’ in Block A don’t use them in their ’selection’ mating yards but simply maintain and observe them, using them for production. This provides redundancy and resilience within the organization and allows the teammates to contribute to the evaluation of all the lines within their block. Such evaluations must be made by Ivan and his Block A teammates every third year for the purpose of choosing which line from within their block is performing best and these will be used by all association members the following year to produce production queens for sale to the beekeeping community. Though customers don’t have the variety of stock needed to do any meaningful breeding of Russian bees, they are assured that they will not receive queens from the same block in consecutive years. This minimizes the possibility of inbreeding within their operations. If Ivans efforts are multiplied by fifteen, the current number of members of our association, you can see that there is considerable selection pressure annually to improve the lines of Russian bees. Our breeding plan is organized with the idea of making inbreeding inconsequential. Noteworthy also are the redundancy and resilience imbedded within the organization; every member has some stock from every line.
The Russian Honey Bee Breeders Association worked with the staff at the Baton Rouge Bee Lab to establish standards and qualifications for our members. Their purpose is to ensure the highest degree of genetic integrity in the Russian Honey Bee Program.
We’ve determined that in order for an operation to produce Russian stock both with genetic integrity and in sufficient numbers it’s necessary that each member must operate a minimum of two hundred colonies. Additionally, the entire outfit must be made up of Russian stock or be moving rapidly toward that goal.
It is required that mating yards, especially those that produce ‘selection’ queens, are isolated, and that they have well stocked drone source colonies of the appropriate lineage and in sufficient numbers. (We’ve set a ratio of one good drone source colony for twenty mating nucs. So, for example, with 24 well stocked drone source colonies representing two colonies from each of the twelve appropriate lines one could set out 480 mating nucs.)
Satisfactory compliance with the above requirements is verified by site inspections by a member of our Board of Directors. (Baton Rouge bee lab personnel have performed some of these inspections for us.)
Additionally each members lines need to be certified as pure each year through genetic testing. This testing will also confirm that apiaries designated for breeding purposes are indeed isolated and are not overlapping with those of other non Russian stocks.” Our members “will be required to submit thirty worker bees from each of their designated lines on a yearly basis for stock certification” (from Russian Honey Bee Breeders Association Manual). Samples may be taken during site inspections or at other times for the same purpose.
In order for a member of our association to be designated a ‘certified’ Russian bee breeder their sight inspection must be satisfactory to our six member board of directors, their stock must be tested and found to be genetically pure, and they must be contributing acceptable stock back to the program.
The businesses of our members vary. We operate in the South and in the far North, in Atlantic as well as in Pacific states. Some of us produce honey for bulk sales and a few are producer packers. Some of us derive the bulk of our income by providing pollination services. Some of us sell bees and queens. All of us contribute to our organization because we value, and desire to improve on, the various fine qualities exhibited by Russian bees; they help our businesses to succeed.
Visit the website www.russianbreeders.org