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MSU Extension hires beekeeping specialist
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Southern beekeepers have an experienced ally joining the ranks of researchers and specialists at Mississippi State University.
On July 1, Jeff Harris began his new position as an Extension Service apiculture specialist and researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Harris previously worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the honeybee breeding laboratory in Baton Rouge. For the past 12 years, Harris has focused his research efforts on breeding honeybees resistant to the Varroa mite, a pest that afflicts and weakens honeybee colonies.
“I have a long-term interest in bee breeding and making it better,” Harris said. “I’m an expert in instrumental insemination, and I’ll continue using those skills in my new job.”
Harris began his work with bees at the age of 8, when he caught his first swarm.
“I had an uncle who kept bees, and from the time I was 5, I was learning about them,” he said. “I built up my bee yard until I had about 25 colonies by the time I was in high school.”
Harris worked for a small commercial beekeeper near Montgomery, Ala., through high school and college to pay for tuition. That experience taught him how to raise queens. It also gave him insight into the commercial side of the beekeeping industry.
While in graduate school, Harris enjoyed working with students and interacting with faculty, something he missed during his career as a USDA researcher.
“My job at MSU is primarily Extension, and I’m looking forward to interacting with people,” he said. “I have big shoes to fill since Dr. Clarence Collison and Harry Fulton both retired, but I’m excited about the opportunities here.”
Harris received a bachelor’s degree in physical science from Auburn University, a master’s degree in entomology from Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. in insect physiology from LSU.
“Dr. Harris is well known for his work developing Varroa-sensitive hygienic bees and strengthening honeybee populations across the country,” said Gary Jackson, MSU Extension Service director. “Pollinators are a significant part of the agriculture sector, and with the continued challenges and colony losses beekeepers are experiencing, it is important to have experts such as Jeff available to Mississippians and contributing to our research efforts.”