Research overseas has demonstrated that selective breeding for the Varroa Sensitive Hygienic (VSH) trait, reduces mite predation to a level that allows bees to continue their important function without chemical treatment. In addition to pollination security, a bee industry free of miticides and varroa-related problems, would not only be biologically sustainable, but enjoy an array of benefits, e.g. premium prices for organic certification.
Whilst being employed at Rainbow Honey Ltd, Rae was privileged to be involved in a technology transfer of the VSH studies conducted by Plant and Food (PFR) to the New Zealand bee keeping industry, Plant and Food's mantra was to 'identify that the VSH behavioral trait was in the honey bee population of New Zealand.' It was then Rainbow Honey's task with the aid of AGDMART and SFF funding to collate the research from overseas and within NZ, then introduce the VSH trait into a selective breeding programme for the commercial use in NZ honeybee population.
Access to overseas research was a critical part the VSH programme not only was the VSH concept new to NZ but it was very much in it's infancy around the world. Rae Butler, then of Rainbow Honey, spent May and June 2012 studying instrumental insemination and queen breeding techniques with Dr Susan Cobey at the Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis and Washington State University in USA. Rae travelled to the APIMONDIA Symposium in Quebec, along with PFR scientist, Michelle Taylor, in November 2012.
July 2014 Rae returned to America & Iceland. Rae visited Bob Danka a Research Entomologist at the Baton Rogue USDA, VP Queen Bees in Maryland, Dennis van Engelsdorp’s Bee Informed Programme Team at Maryland University, and attended an Advanced Insemination Course with Sue Cobey in Seattle.
To reliably test for the VSH trait it takes a huge amount of time and resources, to do the tests commercially without funding was not economically viable for a commercial queen producer. Therefore there was a lot of sharing of ideas and concepts with overseas researchers to ascertain what is acceptable, is the monitoring universal, are the new assays credible and what positive results were guaranteed.
It was ground breaking work at Rainbow Honey, an assay was developed to look for indicators in potential VSH breeders and VSH testing. NZ Industry uptake was slow but understandable there were too many unknowns for commercial outfits to invest time, money and resources into such a complex subject.
With the knowledge these assays are now utilised and accepted overseas, Rae has created Bee Smart Breeding as an eternity to focus on providing pure VSH breeding material. The goal is to incorporate the VSH trait into a selective breeding programme without the compromise of other desirable traits. This still involves intensive monitoring of VSH colonies for the trait breeding values for the VSH trait is still the unknown.
The Goal of Bee Smart Breeding: Create a methodology for the use of VSH colonies and/or organic treatments that commercial and hobbyists can make practical and effective use of.