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Bitner hosts researchers

Bitner hosts Bee researchers

Sunnyslope—At the Bitner winery south of Caldwell, Ron Bitner not only knows wine he's one of the foremost authorities on bees in the Northwest.

Bitner hunches over an orange flowering plant at the edge of his vineyard with two exchange students from Ireland. They’re watching a burrowing bee at the base of the plant.

“The bee burrows a tiny little hole down six inches and they will gather pollen, lay the egg on it and then will come up and cover it. There were hundreds of them here early in the spring. I never used to have them until I planted these flowers six years ago,” 

And thats the point, Bitner has planted flower beds along the border of his chardonnay vineyard and his house. The flower beds are ten feed wide stretch a hundred yards. Bitner says they’re designed for bee diversity and build native bee populations.

The US Department of Agriculture released a report saying that parasites and disease have threatened bee populations and that enhanced genetic diversity is needed in bee colonies. Bitner’s  flowerbeds will help that and also helping are two exchange students staying at the vineyard from Ireland. Both are interested in bee research and learning as much as they can from Bitner.

Ruth Farnan from Dublin is studying out of the University of Idaho Agriculture Extension office in Parma.

“I think a lot more research needs to be done with mites and maybe how they transfer to native populations as well. Although people are worried about the commercial pollinators they’re forgetting about the pollinators that pollinate other plants. Bees are really important to plants and crops and they might be affected as well, and we’re studying them,” said Farnan.

The USDA estimates that one-third of all food and beverages in the United States come directly from bee pollination. Canyon County is one of the most important counties in the nation because a lot of the nation’s seed crops come from this county.

Farnan says something as simple as bee gardens could help bring populations back to sustainable levels.

“You can start a pollinator garden, theres a lot of information on the net, about what plants are good for your area and you can find good ones for wild pollinators and not just the honey bee they are important too. theres a lot of products you can buy and look into that and buy organic sustainable food that supports pollinators. We need a bit more pollinator programs. It’s important for all of us to look out after the bees,” said Farnan.

Student Kim White of Dublin says she's impressed with the U of I Extension program, she’s now considering writing her thesis on bees.

“I just want a good experience, I want to bring some of things I learn here back to Ireland back to my studies. We do a lot of lab based research we don't get that much opportunity in Ireland So that is what I want to do and bring it back to Ireland and possibly find a title for my thesis,” said White.

“Working with Ron Bitner has been interesting because I’m learning about the leaf cutter bee and alfalfa. We don't have the leaf cutter bee in Ireland and it’s been very unique. I definitely have an interest in apiology, I think thats something I might look into doing for a living,” said Farnan.

A decline in bee colonies puts pressure on agriculture in Canyon County. The alfalfa that powers the state dairy industry is pollinated by bees. Bitner vineyards and the young researchers are working to find answers to curb bee mortality.