In celebration of World Honeybee Day, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) highlights NIFA-funded researcher Dr. Judy Wu-Smart, associate professor and extension specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Tell us your journey and how your interest in farming developed.
I’ve always been interested in animals, especially strange animals, so as an intern at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service lab in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I found that entomology, or the study of insects, was exactly what I was looking for. in front of. That experience allowed me to explore the use of insects, or biological control agents, to control invasive pests and weeds. I also developed a strong appreciation for the role that pollinating insects, such as honeybees, play in securing our food system. At that time, beekeepers began reporting massive losses of honeybee colonies — Colony Collapse Disorder — a phenomenon to describe previously healthy colonies that quickly lose workers and leave a weak colony with a neglected queen and offspring. The internship experience, coupled with the alarming need and public messaging to help save the bees, prompted me to pursue a graduate degree in entomology, and more specifically to study aspects of bee health, and since then I have not looked back more.
Describe your involvement with NIFA and your role.
I am the recipient of NIFA awards and have served as a primary researcher and collaborator on several research and education projects. Each project has helped build partnerships and open opportunities to promote new ideas and innovative ways to connect with other scientists, stakeholders and the public.
Can you update us on one of your NIFA-funded projects? What is the purpose of your project and what impact do you hope it will have on your institution and trainees?
Hands-on training is a critical part of success for professions as tactile and sensory as beekeeping. Therefore, new beekeepers must learn many skills that cannot be easily transferred through lectures, web videos and books. Many experienced beekeepers are willing to mentor and offer practical training but do not do so for a variety of reasons, including the lack of suitable sites or insufficient beehives for educational purposes. Therefore, our project entitled “Great Plains Master Beekeeping Farmer Open Apiaries and Educational Training Kits” aims to help set up apiaries and develop practical training kits and demonstration tools to enhance field training and experiential learning for beekeepers that complement existing lectures. and web-based materials. The project builds on the Regional Great Plains Master Beekeeping (GPMB) program that provides hands-on training opportunities and resources to more than 1,500 beekeepers in six Midwestern states. Our overall goal is to improve the economic success of novice and small-scale beekeepers by strengthening local partnerships and community involvement.
How has the NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) shaped your professional development as a scientist?
I have a split between research and education, which means that I spend half my time doing research on bee health and the other half consulting beekeepers, farmers, policy makers and the public about the importance of bees and ways to promote healthy bee systems. Funding from NIFA has given me the opportunity to try innovative approaches, and it has also enabled me to forge great partnerships with many of the local and national beekeeping societies. I have learned as much from these partnerships as I have from working with us, and these interactions have helped shape our robust expansion program and have strengthened and focused our research efforts.
What advice do you have for current students who may be interested in a similar career path?
I really enjoy both research and education aspects of my work, and I find that conducting applied research and building relationships to disseminate these findings in relevant and useful ways has meaning and purpose. Find what gives you purpose and don’t be afraid to get yourself out there and get involved. Engage with your colleagues, partners and stakeholders, but more importantly, listen and learn from them. Expansion is about science communication and information has to come from both sides. And don’t forget to enjoy.
Top photo: Bees swarm Dr. Judy Wu-Smart (left) and pay no attention to Luke Norris, technician, (right) as the two work with their hive. Image provided Dr. Wu-Smart.