Author Archives: Sebastian Owen

  • Ulster beekeeping conference

    A few days after St Patrick’s Day, Vita attended the very successful Ulster Beekeepers Association Annual Conference in the town of Antrim where 350 bee folk had gathered to hear talks and visit trade stands.

  • The view from Apimondia 2013

    I’ve put a Facebook photo album up of some of the sights that have caught our eyes at Apimondia this year. The link below should be accessible even if you don’t have a Facebook account.

    Below are a few tasters.




    Sebastian Owen, Commercial Development Manager
    Follow me on Twitter: @SDWOwen 

  • Fun and Friends, Queues and Chaos at Apimondia 2013

    Since Beijing 1993, even before Vita was founded, the biennial beat of Apimondia has provided the rhythm to our business lives. From Melbourne to Montpellier and Durban to Dublin, Vita has long been a huge supporter of Apimondia, and frequent Gold Sponsor.

    Jeremy Owen, of Vita, being interviewed for Ukrainian TV

    Jeremy Owen, of Vita, being interviewed for Ukrainian TV

    Kyiv 2013, is no different and we began building up to this event almost on the flight home from Buenos Aires two years ago. We’re a Gold Sponsor again this year and there are about 15 of us manning the stand, from all over the world.

    I should say, there are now 15 of us manning the stand. On day one, only three of us were able to get through the doors to set everything up. I was one of the lucky few – arriving early enough and with a staff pass that allowed me to get in blissfully unaware of the mayhem going on outside.

    Sadly, most were not so fortunate. Stories abound and the one thing we can say about Apimondia this year is that it’s given everyone something to talk about. Sadly, delegates aren’t swapping beekeeping tips and stories, they’re comparing notes on time spent queuing and fights witnessed. I think the worst I’ve heard is seven hours in the queue, unprotected from the bitter rainstorms.

    It’s rare to hear of anyone who managed to register after less than three and a half hours in a queue that has been described to me as a rugby scrum or the bottom of an American football pileup. Veterans are amazed that the flimsy registration desks held up to the shoving and I’m surprised that I’ve not seen more black eyes wandering around the congress!

    Over the past seven or eight months, we’ve been in very close contact with the local Organising Committee and they’ve really done everything possible to help make this a successful, innovative and memorable congress. While a lot of avoidable mistakes were made, the Committee will also point to some technical problems that could not have been foreseen.

    Unfortunately, Apimondia 2013 in Kyiv will be a memorable one, but for a lot of the wrong reasons.

    To end on a positive note, part of the problems with registration were due to an unprecedented demand for entrance to Apimondia which must be a good sign for the health of the beekeeping sector. The volunteers here have worked themselves to near collapse in extremely difficult circumstances, and the organisers always try to find time to help in any way they can. As always we’ve caught up with old friends and made new ones and we’re already planning for and looking forward to Daejeog, Korea in 2015. Onwards and upwards!

    Sebastian Owen, Commercial Development Manager
    Follow me on Twitter: @SDWOwen 

  • Does your national government help your honeybees?

    The frenzy is well underway in European Union countries as governments finalise their plans for the upcoming funding cycle for honeybees and beekeeping.

    In September, the EU is expected to approve each Member State’s national programme for support of the beekeeping sector. The coming three-year cycle runs from 2014 until 2016 and is intended to cover areas including Varroa control, applied research, technical assistance, laboratory support, migratory beekeeping and the restocking of hives.

    I think it’s worth looking at the different approaches taken around the continent.

    Provided they fit the broad areas (listed above) outlined in Article 106 of the relevant EU Directive (here, if you’re interested), governments are free to allocate the funding as they choose. In practice, approaches tend to fall into three groups, outlined below.

    1 – ‘We do quite enough already, thank you very much’
    Here in the UK, beekeepers don’t get a whiff of EU funding. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is simply allocated straight to FERA, who provide support for the beekeeping sector in the form of the excellent National Bee Unit and our network of regional bee inspectors. Other countries adopting a similar approach include Ireland, Sweden, Holland and Denmark, all of whom plough the EU subsidy directly into research programmes. While research into bee health is clearly vital, what irks some beekeepers is that it can appear that work is simply being carried out for its own sake. Perhaps commercial organisations (with Governmental support) are better placed to carry out at least some of this research, given the clear imperative for a return on their investment.

    2 – ‘What hurts most? Let’s try to help’
    Many Central and Southern European Member States like Germany, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia, as well as Portugal and Italy, new Member Croatia and Accession candidate Montenegro use their EU funding to subsidise Varroa control. This has the dual benefit of aiding the fight against ‘enemy number one’ while incentivising a national register of beekeepers. This register could be considered a vital tool to track the spread of disease or pesticide resistance and cut down on rogue practices. As @SheffieldHoney pointed out on Twitter recently, in the UK one requires a licence to catch a single fish but not even a cursory check to keep millions of bees! Implementation of this strategy varies from subsidising the cost of Varroa treatments on an ‘approved list’ to handing out product free of charge but the key continuum is that support is given to registered colonies only.

    3 – The combined approach
    France is unusual in allocating funding to almost all of the areas covered by the EU directive, at least to some degree. France uses their budget to subsidise Varroa control, as well as for the rationalisation of seasonal migration, supporting research labs, restocking colonies and providing technical assistance.

    Colony losses
    Interestingly, a crude look at colony loss data (the figures I used relate to 2009-2012) would imply that the second approach leads to lower overall losses.

    Looking forwards
    It will be intriguing to see what happens when the national programmes are publicised next month. We already know, for example, that Slovenia is moving away from a system whereby every registered colony in the country received free treatment but the beekeeper had no choice of product – only one product was offered and the overwhelming criterion for the choice of product was lowest price, rather than effectiveness or ease of use.

    We hope governments will see this round of funding as an opportunity to get support to where it really counts.

    Sebastian Owen, Commercial Development Manager
    Follow me on Twitter: @SDWOwen