NatureFirst USA

The Honey Bee Crisis: Decline in Honey Bee Population Worries Farmers

By Sally Morton
March 20, 2006

In 2005, there was a honey bee crisis in the United States. The honey bee
crisis (40-60% of honey bees in U.S. dead or weakened) negatively impacts wide
range of crops.

There is a crisis underway but few people know about it. An estimated 40-60 percent of
honey bees in the United States died or were severely weakened in 2005.
California has the largest beekeeping industry and lost 50 percent of their
honey bees in 2005. State governments, and even other countries (notably
Australia), responded to the crisis of 2005, but it remains to be seen how
agriculture will fare in 2006.

While the US weathered the honey bee crisis of 2005, the varoa mite,
unseasonably warm winter temperatures (tricking bees into thinking it was
spring), and higher prices for bee pollination continue to affect American
agriculture in 2006. According to a March 8, 2006 article in BBC News, Almond
Farmers Seek Healthy Bees, " 2004, beekeepers could get, on average, $54
for every hive they sent to almond groves in California. Last year, prices
peaked at about $85, and in 2006 there are reports of owners charging more than
$150." That increased cost, along with higher gas prices for trucking, will be
passed along to consumers.

The unprecedented honey bee destruction has been blamed on the varroa mite.
According to most authorities, the mites have become resistent to pesticides.

Originating in Asia, the mite became a problem in the US two decades ago.

Many fruit, nut, vegetable, legume, and seed crops depend on pollination.

Pollination is "the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of a plant
or flower in the process of fertilization. Pollination occurs when insects brush
against and pick up the pollen from one flower and then carry it to another

Per U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics:

One-third of the human diet is derived directly or indirectly from
insect-pollinated plants.

80 percent of insect pollination is accomplished by honey bees.

Other insects that accomplish the remaining 20% of pollination are also
drastically reduced.²

The honey bee shortage affects apple growers in Virginia, almond growers in
California (which produces 80% of global almond supply), and watermelon growers
in Florida.

Some crops that require pollination are: apples, avocados, blueberries,
cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, melons, oranges, grapefruit, pumpkins, squash,
sunflowers, tangerines, and watermelon. Also, forage plants like clover and
alfalfa need pollination (and cows need clover).

Perhaps the greatest value of honey bee pollination is seeds destined for
worldwide distribution: 20 vegetables produce seeds only if their flowers are
pollinated.² Direct and indirect effects cannot be estimated: ornamental shrubs
and trees, wild plants (on which wild animals and birds forage), beeswax, honey...

Unless the honey bee shortage is rectified, the United States may suffer a
shortage in quantity and quality of pollinated crops, beef and dairy products.
Already, it means higher prices. This may be great news for commodities traders,
but it's bad news for families. Additionally, it would have a ripple effect in
the world economy and global seed supplies.

There's an old farmer's saying: "Nature gives first warnings." Let's hope there
is a speedy solution to the honey bee shortage, and that scientists figure out
what other factors might be at work.

What can you do to help?

Encourage beekeeping in your community.

The American Beekeeping Federation has established a research and education
foundation to collect private funds and direct them to bee research.

Make pesticide applications to your vegetable gardens and any plants when bees
are not present in the garden, usually at dusk or after dark. Consider natural
pest control methods.

Spread the word.


¹See Honey Bee Pollination Crisis at The American Beekeeping Federation website.
²Don't Underestimate The Value of Honeybees, University of California at Davis
Cooking With Honey
"Honey-Brined Chicken is an easy update to your average roasted chicken but the
results are anything but average. Simply combine water, honey, salt, lemon
slices and herbs and immerse the chicken in the brine, soaking for 12 to 18
hours. Then remove and roast as usual. The results are a plumper, moister and
juicier chicken - even the leftovers will taste better! If you don't have time
to brine, mix honey with equal parts olive oil or mustard and brush on meats as
they grill. The honey adds a wonderful flavor and helps meat brown evenly."
---Courtesy The National Honey Board
Gardener's Tip: Pure honey is said to cure many ailments and prevent diseases.
Ancient Egyptians advised putting it on wounds because of its antiseptic



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