Honey Bee Pollination Crisis
Honey Bee Pollination Crisis
JESUP, Ga.--(BUSINESS WIRE)----Unprecedented losses of honey bees to a parasitic mite are threatening U.S. crop production, with impacts ranging from almonds to zucchinis.
The American Beekeeping Federation estimates that about 50 percent of the honey bee colonies in California have been killed or severely weakened.
In January, as beekeepers began preparing to place their beehives into California orchards to pollinate almonds, they found that varroa mites had decimated their bees, leaving many of the colonies dead and others severely weakened. The death of so many bees is creating a pollination shortage, threatening the almond crop -- the first to bloom in the spring. Beekeepers and almond growers have trucked in beehives from as far as Florida to meet the demand. To help with the pollination and to re-populate empty beehives, beekeepers have air-freighted bees to California from Australia.
"I have sent bees to California for almond pollination for years, but this year I sent additional hives to help with the crisis," said David Ellingson, a Minnesota beekeeper who is president of American Beekeeping Federation.
Beekeepers have been relying upon chemical treatments to control varroa mites, but the mites have become resistant to those chemicals. The mites attach themselves to the honey bees, sucking blood from adult bees and brood, resulting in dead, deformed, and weakened bees, and reducing the colony's ability to survive.
The shortage of bees for the almond crop is a clear indicator that further pollination shortages for fruit, berries, vegetables, tree nuts, oil seeds and legume crops are likely to develop throughout the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about one-third of the human diet is derived directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants and about 80 percent of this insect pollination is accomplished by honey bees.
"A shortage of honey bees for pollination will impact the quality, quantity and price of many agricultural crops," said Ellingson. "We are learning of massive losses throughout the U.S."
Beekeepers are looking to science for solutions to the crisis. "We need USDA -- and the agricultural colleges -- to step up their honey bee research activities," said Daniel Weaver, a Texas beekeeper and vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. "Unfortunately, the President's budget would actually cut beekeeping research funding. We are asking Congress for additional funds to put more scientists to work on solutions to this crisis."
The beekeeping industry has initiated efforts of its own to promote honey bee research. The American Beekeeping Federation has established a research and education foundation to collect private funds and direct them to bee research. Last year, the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees granted scholarships to six graduate students working in the subject. The Foundation is repeating its scholarship program again this year.
"We are attempting to attract bright young minds to the field of beekeeping research," said Foundation Chairperson Randall Johnson of Nampa, Idaho. "Regrettably, we are getting started a bit late, and we have very limited funds to work with."
The American Beekeeping Federation has 1,200 members from across the country, who are involved in all aspects of the beekeeping and honey industry. For more information, write to the American Beekeeping Federation/Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, P.O. Box 1337, Jesup, GA 31598, ph. 912-427-4233, e-mail info@ABFnet.org or visit www.ABFnet.org.
American Beekeeping Federation Troy Fore, 912-427-4233 info@ABFnet.org