Thursday, May 3, 2007

What Could the Matter Bee?

This Hartford Courant article covers the problem of Colony Collapse disorder, a malady of unkown origin that has killed up to 90% of bees in some large commercial colonies. It talks about how bees are trucked around the country to pollinate various crops. The article notes that Connecticut, where there are no large commericial bee operations, has only received reports of one unconfirmed case of problem that is killing so many bees.
Every spring and summer for the past three years, Alan Holmberg, owner of Full Bloom Apiaries in Preston, has loaded his flatbed truck with honeybee hives to provide pollination services to farmers in eastern Connecticut.With 250 hives, Holmberg's is considered a medium-size commercial beekeeping business. But this year he hopes to turn beekeeping into a full-time business by expanding his customer base and establishing more hives.

His timing could be good. The number of beekeepers nationally is on the decline, while at the same time there is a soaring demand for pollination services. Over the past decade, beekeeping has become a big business, with some large-scale commercial beekeepers managing as many as 80,000 hives.But the path to large-scale beekeeping has become a perilous one. The recent appearance of colony collapse disorder, an epidemic of unknown origin that is decimating the nation's honeybee population, has some scientists and beekeepers wondering whether the industry's movement to large-scale commercial operations is responsible for its spread.While commercial beekeepers make up only a small percentage of the total number of beekeepers, they manage the majority of colonies used for pollination, researchers say.

Each year, about 2 million hives go on the road to pollinate a third of the nation's agricultural crop, a service that's valued at $15 billion per year, according to the National Honey Board in Longmont, Colo. The bees pollinate almonds, apples, peaches, blueberries and many other crops.

Some researchers wonder whether the stress of travel and poor nutrition is contributing to colony collapse disorder, which has reportedly affected about half the nation's beekeepers. On average, beekeepers lose 5 percent to 10 percent of their stock over the winter. But this year, some are reporting losses of up to 90 percent of their hives.

So far, only one case of colony collapse disorder has been reported in Connecticut and has not yet been confirmed by agriculture officials. Of note is that Connecticut has none of the huge commercial-scale beekeeping operations.

The season for itinerant bees begins in February, when commercial beekeepers from around the country load their hives onto tractor-trailer trucks and haul them to California, where 1 million hives are needed to pollinate the state's $2 billion almond crop. There, hives rent for $125 to $155 each, and two to four hives are needed to pollinate an acre of almonds, said Rollin Hannan, past president of the Connecticut Beekeepers Association.

Toward the end of April, the colonies are trucked back home to participate in regional pollination circuits. If home is the Northeast, the bees go on the New England pollination circuit, which runs from New Jersey to Maine, with hives renting for $50 to $60 each. From May to July, the bees will pollinate apples, peaches, pears, blueberries and other crops that together are valued at $150 million.

The bee circuit system may be good for the almond or apple crops, but it has some disadvantages for the bees. Parked in an almond field for a month, worker bees, whose average life span is 40 days, don't get a balanced diet, Holmberg said.

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John Blatchford said...

I have just written a few articles about various aspects of the Honeybee crisis which you might find of interest – for example:

pixie said...

Things we can do:

Buy organic, when we buy organic we are helping discourage the use of pesticides.

I have put my cell phone down for now.

Keep reading and learning as much as we can about the bees.

Support local bee keepers. Hopefully the organic ones, that way they are not feeding the bees sugar water or protein mixes.

It is a big problem.