Proposed Changes In Michigan Guidelines May Result In 'Hardships For Beekeepers'

Dawn Papple

Proposed changes to Michigan's 2015 Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) are creating quite a buzz among the state's beekeepers. GAAMPs are the state's official guidelines for commercial farmers and beekeepers alike. Earlier this year, changes to GAAMPs caused an uproar among urban and backyard farming Michiganders.

The new changes set for 2015 propose that beekeepers make sure that their beehives are blocked from nearby properties in order to redirect the flight path of the bees away from residential areas. If the GAAMPs changes are adopted, many more beekeepers may have to erect a solid 6-foot-high fence, hedge, or other barrier -- or relocate their hives, according to a report by MLIVE's Rosemary Parker.

Michigan Apiarist Mike Hansen told MLIVE that a barrier in a bee's path will encourage the bee to forage in an alternate direction. Still, there seems to be some confusion about the actual need for a barrier and new wording that calls for a 200-foot distance between beekeeper's hives and neighbors' properties.

MDARD spokeswoman, Jennifer Holton, told MLIVE that the proposed changes clarify the current guidelines. She said that the new text will explain that when beekeepers place beehives within 200 feet of any developed, neighboring property, "a solid fence, wall, or dense vegetative barrier capable of interrupting the direct flight of bees shall be used to redirect the bee's flight pattern and prevent a direct line of flight from the hives into neighboring properties. The barrier shall start at the ground, be a minimum of six feet in height and shall extend beyond the direct line of sight from the hive to the neighboring or adjacent property. Hives must not be placed along property lines unless a solid fence, wall or dense vegetative barrier capable of interrupting the direct flight of bees forms the property boundary."

The Michigan Small Farm Council (MSFC) is unhappy with the proposed beekeeping changes and encourages its members to contact Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and attend a public meeting, because public input is invited when changes to GAAMPs are discussed. MSFC's president, Wendy Banka, pointed out that bee populations are declining and suggests that beekeepers in Michigan should be supported, not restricted.

In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an additional four million dollars in aide to help support bee survival in five midwestern states where two-thirds of all commercially tended honeybees buzz around from from June to September, pollinating the food supply. Michigan was one of those five states.

"The future of America's food supply depends on honeybees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honeybee populations," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Associated Press of the grant money set aside to protect bees.

Banka is concerned that the changes to GAAMPs will create added hardships for Michigan beekeepers, in contrast to incentives being offered to beekeepers in other states.

"This could be a very long fence indeed for someone with five acres and hives less than 200 feet from the property line," according to Banka. "For someone in a residential area, it could mean complete enclosure of the yard with a solid 6-foot high fence."

"Two hundred feet is a very large setback," Banka told Parker, "and would be a game-changer for a lot of people."

The public input meeting, which will be discussing the changes to the beekeeping guidelines, is set for December 12. Information can be found on the MSFC's Facebook page and on MDARD's webpage. The Michigan agency will also accept public input about the proposed beekeeping guidelines in writing.

[Photo via Pixabay]