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Cobey wins beekeeping service award

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, has won the 2009 “Outstanding Service to Beekeeping” award from the Western Apicultural Society (WAS).

Cobey received a plaque at the organization’s 31st annual conference, held in Healdsburg. Known world-wide for her expertise in instrumental insemination and stock improvement, she trained under Harry Laidlaw (1907-2003) of UC Davis, considered “the father of honey bee genetics.”

Eric Mussen, WAS president and Extension apiculturist, UC Davis Department of Entomology, presented her the award, extolling her expertise, dedication and passion.

“It’s a special honor to receive this award, especially since my return to California,” said Cobey, who participated in the first WAS conferences.

Cobey joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in May 2007, after a career spanning 17 years as staff apiarist at the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Laboratory, Ohio State University.

Cobey developed the New World Carnolians stock, a dark race of honey bees, in the early 1980s by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States and Canada to create a more pure strain. A current focus of her research includes selecting and enhancing this stock to show increasing levels of resistance to pests and diseases.

Of her research, she says: “Over time, it has proven very productive, winter hardy, well-tempered and more resistant to pests and disease. Genetic diversity, the raw tools for selection, is critical in maintaining colony fitness and resisting pests and diseases.”

She is enhancing the stock, now in its 27th generation, with importation of semen from the German Carnica Association.

Cobey teaches advanced beekeeping courses on queen bee rearing and queen bee insemination, drawing students from throughout the world.

WAS member and author M.E.A. “Mea” McNeil of San Anselmo nominated Cobey for the award. “In interviewing beekeepers across the country for an American Bee Journal article on the possibilities of breeding local survivor stock, I found that many seeds planted by Sue Cobey had sprouted and flourished,” McNeil said. “For example, the successful Sustainable Honeybee Program in Northern Virginia attributes its existence to encouragement from Cobey.”

Dan Purvis of Purvis Brothers Apiaries, Leoma, Tenn., credits Cobey’s drone management program “as a valuable part of his protocol, which has now maintained untreated stock for over a decade,” McNeil said.

McNeil also noted that Cobey’s “obligations to UC Davis more than fill her time, but she created a special class for a group of Marin County beekeepers on ‘Survivor Stock Queen Rearing.’”

“She does not proselytize about the possibilities of rearing survival stock, and she is realistic about the enormous difficulties that come with the endeavor,” McNeil said. “At the same time, she has successfully mentored beekeepers who choose to take it on.”

Cobey joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in May 2007, after a career spanning 17 years as staff apiarist at the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Laboratory, Ohio State University.

Cobey is the 28th person to receive the WAS award, and the sixth from UC Davis. Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. received the award in 1980; Robert Page in 1989; Norman Gary in 1990; Eric Mussen in 1991; and Christine Peng in 2002. Page (now with Arizona State University), Gary and Peng are all emeriti professors.

Mussen and Gary co-founded WAS in 1978 as a non-profit, educational organization designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.

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