By Nigel Costley
The AFB Management Agency’s hesitancy over dogs in AFB detection (as detailed in last month’s Advocate story) is entirely understandable. No one doubts the ability of dogs to sniff out AFB and the potential this has for the industry. The acid question is, how would this impact on the beekeepers’ over-all disease management practice?
For physical inspections, for example, would it be in addition to, or a substitute for? To the well-organized and conscientious beekeeper, I suspect, it would tend to be the former. But they are not the problem. For those beekeepers struggling with AFB – for whatever reason – the prospect of using dogs could seem like a quick fix. Put the dog over the apiary. No reaction. No need for an inspection. Sweet. Another short-cut to a practice already floundering in short cuts.
The other sticking point is environmental variability. Even if the dogs demonstrate their effectiveness in the field, can you generalize from that to other apiaries where different conditions may pertain? Other odours, thymol used for varroa treatment for instance, may mask AFB’s scent. It may well be that experience, both for the dogs and the beekeepers, will eventually iron out these problems. But this will take time, extra verifying inspections, good record keeping, and be messy for AFB Management to monitor.
Whatever else, a thorough physical inspection of every brood frame must be a core skill (and frequent practice) of every beekeeper. Until the industry can be convinced that the use of dogs will not be at the expense of other disease control methods further scepticism is warranted.
Nigel Costley is a Nelson beekeeper and former AFB recognition tutor.