JoAnne Skelly: Decline is a threat to U.S. beekeeping industry

Honeybees are dying in alarming numbers across the United States, according to researchers and commercial beekeepers. “Populations have declined in North America almost 50 percent over the past two decades” (Cline, 2013, Western Farm Press). USDA reports major bee declines since 2006.

K. Keatley Garvey from UC Davis writes in Western Farm Press that every winter honeybees are dying in large numbers. In fact, 2012 was one of the worst winters on record for bee deaths. One example of the pressing need for bees for successful production is California’s 800,000 acres of almonds. UC Davis Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen says, “We need 1.6 million colonies … and California has only about 500,000 colonies … We need to bring in a million more colonies, but due to winter losses, we may not have enough bees.” Mussen goes on to state that 2012 might have been one of the worst honey-production years in the history of the nation, depriving bees of their food source. “Some beekeepers have reported winter losses of 90 to 100 percent” (Mussen, 2013).

“Almond growers want productive hives with at least eight frames of bees per hive,” Mussen states. Beekeepers are finding many hives have died this past winter, and other hives are maintaining only four or fewer frames of bees. This is a serious decline. Beekeepers are hard-pressed to provide enough bees to meet the pollination demand not only for almond production but for other fruits and vegetables. Some California almond growers are having to order their bees from beekeepers in the Eastern U.S.

What is killing the bees? No one is quite sure what causes colony collapse disorder. It may be mite infestations and viruses, bad beekeeping, pesticides, reduction of habitat and pollen sources, or weather including drought. If this bee decline continues, commercial beekeeping may become a thing of the past in the U.S.


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