By Marlee Moore
Dr. Geoff Williams has a penchant for pollinators.
Armed with a smoker, Auburn-embellished helmet and orange and blue hive boxes, Williams has built substantial buzz around the Auburn University (AU) Bee Lab while solving practical problems that affect Alabama beekeepers.
That work earned him the Rittenour Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Research, presented during the Alabama Farmers Federation Farm & Land Expo in Birmingham Aug. 4.
“One of the main reasons I enjoy my job is that I work with and for beekeepers,” said Williams, an assistant professor in AU’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. “To be recognized for that practical work and for helping to create better beekeeping in Alabama, that’s amazing.”
As the fourth annual Rittenour Award winner, Williams received $10,000 toward programming costs, courtesy of the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation.
Williams began revitalizing AU’s Bee Lab in 2016, when he and wife Dr. Stephanie Rogers (a geoscience professor) joined AU’s faculty. The move placed them closer to their native Canada after five years in Switzerland, where Williams researched honeybees at the University of Bern.
Williams’ work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit has bolstered beekeeping on and off campus. AU-BEES honey sales fund research and increase name ID for the program. The lab works with beekeepers across the nation to coordinate and analyze data from the Bee Informed Partnership’s colony loss survey.
Additionally, Williams works with the Federation’s State Bee & Honey Committee to target research for Alabama beekeepers, like ways to combat the pesky varroa mite.
During the recent pandemic, Williams helped spearhead an innovative At-Home Beekeeping Webinar Series.
“Everything was shutting down, but we were thriving and delivering a new program,” he said. “We established it quickly and are still going strong two years later.”
Williams was raised in Red Deer between Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. He earned a bachelor’s in animal biology from the University of Alberta before an interest in parasitology helped him discover the sweet world of honeybees. He also holds a doctorate in biology from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
Williams and Stephanie enjoy camping, biking and spending time with their 10-month-old daughter, Ruby.
Federation Bee & Honey Division Director Blake Thaxton complimented Williams’ out-of-the-box approach to elevating apiculture.
“In just six years, Geoff has made a name for Auburn’s bee program internationally,” Thaxton said. “He understands what our beekeepers need and isn’t afraid to use new techniques to improve Alabama apiculture. It’s our honor to help support his program as he, in turn, supports Alabama beekeepers.”
To follow Williams’ work, visit fb.com/auburnbees.