Yesterday, I attended a full day’s beekeepers meeting in Les Mayons, a village in the Department of Var, that is next to the Department of Bouche du Rhones, where Aix-en-Provence is located. Departments in France are equivalent to provinces or states in other countries. The setting was in a grove of cork oaks; one of the most majestic trees there was quite old and marked by having much of its bark removed over the years to make corks. The grove looked ill managed and probably is not used that way any more. Cork oaks exist here because their thick bark protects them from the frequent forest fires of this region.
The setting was at a local community house; about 60 French beekeepers were present. This was the annual meeting of the SAPP (Professional Beekeepers Association of Provence). Professionals are separated in Europe from hobbyists and form their own associations. I met an organizer who was there to represent the larger agricultural association in France, made up of many professional associations which includes all kinds of agriculture. I understood that a U.S. parallel would be the American Farm Bureau. Topics brought up were not surprising; they were much like one might expect at other beekeeper meetings. There was discussion of the financial situation of the Association; the SAPP apparently puts on several honey promotional days and has expenses along this line. There was also the annual vote to determine the yearly dues. As expected, this was quite animated; I believe the price set was FF 1300 or about $260.
Another topic included the presence of honey in the market place that purported to be of a certain variety and was not. The President of the SAPP brought a bottle of very dark, strong-tasting honey labelled as “lavender,” which is the premium honey of this region. Real lavender honey is water-white and mild tasting. There is a certification program of some kind for this honey (a red label can be affixed to ensure source), but the consumer apparently is not well aware of this. The honey market was also analyzed by various beekeepers present. Lavender honey has dropped almost 50 percent in value since the mid- 1980s. Higher world honey prices, however, rather like elsewhere in the world, is cause for optimism here.
Pesticide spraying of lavender, grown as an ingredient in perfumes primarily and secondarily as a honey source, was also discussed as was the practice of grape growers who spray their vines, but in the process poison bees foraging on the understory plants found in the vineyard. There is a national insurance plan to protect beekeepers against pesticide application, but that is not a final solution to the problem it seems. The beekeepers also complained about the high rent charged by the state-run forest service to put hives on public lands. The European Economic Community’s regulations or lack of (presence of Italian and Hungarian honey in the local markets) was also analyzed.
Mr. Pascal Jourdan of ADAPI (Association for Apiculture Development in Provence) which coordinates four beekeeping education centers, two professional beekeepers associations, an association of honey packers and two GRAPPs which are involved primarily in pollination, discussed at length research by ADAPI on formic acid, rotenone, amitraz , and the Italian product Apilife VAR (R), for Varroa control. All these products provide some control, but are labor intensive. Take-away news from the meeting for U.S. beekeepers is that the problem of resistance by Varroa to Apistan has come to France via Italy. The product simply no longer provides adequate mite control.