ONTD Political

Bee Deaths May Have Reached A Crisis Point For Crops

9:07 am - 05/13/2013
According to a new survey of America's beekeepers, almost a third of the country's honeybee colonies did not make it through the winter.

That's been the case, in fact, almost every year since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began this annual survey, six years ago.


Over the past six years, on average, 30 percent of all the honeybee colonies in the U.S. died off over the winter. The worst year was five years ago. Last year was the best: Just 22 percent of the colonies died.

"Last year gave us some hope," says Jeffrey Pettis, research leader of the Agriculture Department's Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

But this year, the death rate was up again: 31 percent.

Six years ago, beekeepers were talking a lot about "colony collapse disorder" — colonies that seemed pretty healthy, but suddenly collapsed. The bees appeared to have flown away, abandoning their hives.

Beekeepers aren't seeing that so much anymore, Pettis says. They're mostly seeing colonies that just dwindle. As the crowd of bees gets smaller, it gets weaker.

"They can't generate heat very well in the spring to rear brood. They can't generate heat to fly," he says.

Farmers who grow crops like almonds, blueberries and apples rely on commercial beekeepers to make sure their crops get pollinated.

But the number of honeybees has now dwindled to the point where there may not be enough to pollinate those crops.

Pettis says that this year, farmers came closer than ever to a true pollination crisis. The only thing that saved part of the almond crop in California was some lovely weather at pollination time.

"We got incredibly good flight weather," Pettis says. "So even those small colonies that can't fly very well in cool weather, they were able to fly because of good weather."

Pettis says beekeepers can afford to lose only about 15 percent of their colonies each year. More than that, and the business won't be viable for long. Some commercial beekeepers are still in business, he says, just because they love it.

"It's just something that gets in your blood, so you don't want to give up. [You say,] 'OK, it's 30 percent this year; I'll do better next year.' We're very much optimists," he says.

Beekeepers have a whole list of reasons for why so many colonies are dying. There's a nasty parasite called the Varroa Mite, which they can't get rid of. There are also bee-killing pesticides. And there are just fewer places in the country where a bee can find plenty of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen.

That was especially true this past year. The same drought that left Midwestern corn fields parched and wilting also dried up wildflowers and starved the bees.


That was a natural disaster. But May Berenbaum, who chairs the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that most of the changes in the landscape are the result of people's decisions about what to do with their land.

"I just wish there were more incentives for people — not just farmers — to plant a more diversified landscape that provides nutritional resources for all kinds of pollinators," she says. "Plant more flowers! And be a little more tolerant of the weeds in the garden."

More controversial is the role of pesticides. Some beekeepers and environmentalists are calling for tighter restrictions on the use of one particular class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Europe is about to ban some uses of these pesticides. But U.S. farmers and pesticide companies are opposed to any such move here, and the Environmental Protection Agency says it's not yet convinced that this would help bees very much.


Source is heading back to Melissa Majoria.

Edited to remove members-only lock on post.

ETA: Links!
callmetothejedi 13th-May-2013 04:15 pm (UTC)
:-/
astridmyrna 13th-May-2013 04:17 pm (UTC)
My mom plants roses and I'm planting a sugar pie pumpkin plant in my patio pot today, so maybe that will help. Poor bees!
the_siobhan 13th-May-2013 04:26 pm (UTC)
For the Canadians here, Elizabeth May has a petition against neonicotinoids on her site.

http://elizabethmaymp.ca/get-involved/ban-neonicotinoids/


romp 14th-May-2013 04:06 am (UTC)
Right on. Now I just need proportional representation so I can vote 1) Green, 2) NDP.
the_physicist 13th-May-2013 04:53 pm (UTC)
Most of the important studies seem to place the blame in the corner of the pesticides, while stressing that it is likely to be a combination of a lot of issues. One recent study talked about how feeding bees high fructose corn syrup instead of honey could be hurting their chances of fighting off the pesticides (as the syrup doesn't contain natural bee immune system boosters etc) that they used to be able to fight off before when they were allowed to eat their own honey.

There's a lot that's unknown because they haven't been able to study enough bodies of dead bees from what I understand? :/
crossfire 13th-May-2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
My bet is on pesticides too. But I also think the fact that bees are an introduced, invasive species (the honeybee is not native to North America) has something to do with it too.
moonbladem 13th-May-2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
But U.S. farmers and pesticide companies are opposed to any such move here..."

But of course the pesticide companies would be opposed to such a move, even if it's proven that pesticides are a definite part of the problem. It's against their interests don't you know.
the_physicist 13th-May-2013 05:14 pm (UTC)
without a definitely link it will be hard to convince them, but yeah, even with a proven link... might be hard. i'm glad the EU has starting to curb the use of those pesticides, but they really need to find out more about what the cause is exactly.
wren123 13th-May-2013 05:16 pm (UTC)
It would be nice if more cities allowed bee keeping. I know a lot of people who would love to keep bees. Which might help keep the population up. And while they are an introduced spicies, so are most of the plants that they polinate.
crossfire 13th-May-2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
I would SO love to keep bees. I'm not even caring about the honey and other products (though those are awesome), I just love having them in my garden.
bella_cheval 13th-May-2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
I've been reading about this for a couple of years in a magazine called COUNTRYSIDE AND SMALL STOCK JOURNAL and it's disturbing. If more people knew how important bees are to the food supply, they'd be shocked. Or not. Anyway, I'd love to keep bees but I'm really, really allergic to them. Thankfully we have a lot of wild flowering trees and plants for them and a couple of neighbors have fantastic gardens.
tiddlywinks103 13th-May-2013 06:06 pm (UTC)
Sucks. A link to a California-based bee keeping org, trying to offset this.

Aaaand their Annual HoneyLove Yellow tie Event, too.
miriamele 13th-May-2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
I am pretty interested in this bee issue. I have taken steps to make my yard bee friendly and I've seen some around but I can't imagine I can make that huge of a difference.

I really like the idea of incentives to encourage people to grow flowers and maintain them. More people should do it. Plus it's good for everyone!

God I'm such a tree hugger.
cindyanne1 13th-May-2013 06:28 pm (UTC)
I would LOVE to keep honeybees! My grandfather used to do that; he had about six hives and would always bring us honey and royal jelly and stuff. Although I must say I can't eat honey on bread. I can drink it in tea and mix it with mustard and such to make a sauce, but not on bread at all!

My husband won't go for it though. He's really allergic to bee stings (they don't bother me any more than a mosquito.) My grandfather used to claim the honeybee venom was "good for what ails you." Maybe if you're not allergic to them, Grandpa!
omimouse 13th-May-2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
So far, our wooded hillside has been something of a bee haven. No pesticides, and the only places I yank weeds out of is the veggie beds, so we have wildflowers aplenty.

You can walk out in late summer and stand still in the driveway, with the last flowers of the year all around you, and listen to the drone of thousands of bees stocking up for the winter. The past three years have been pretty much the same, as far as I can tell. I'm not sure if I should try and get in contact with one of these groups to come see why our bees seem to be so resilient, or if it really is 'just' as simple as a wide variety of flowers, lack of 'cides, and being allowed to eat their own food.
fading_october 13th-May-2013 06:45 pm (UTC)
Have they checked my front yard? Seems like they are fucking everywhere I go >_> I don't like them.

That being said..I don't want them to die. Just stay away from me...lol. Mom plants tons of flowers and maintains the yard without chemicals. I believe when we had some sort of pest epidemic she released lady bugs all around...but those seem to be gone.
skellington1 13th-May-2013 06:49 pm (UTC)
I'm all for anything that gets more people to plant more diversified yards. The Perfect Suburban Lawn is a near sterile zone, really -- it doesn't feed anything except a few invasive bugs. Diverse plant life is required to support diverse insect life, because something like 90% of insect larvae have highly specific dietary requirements, and pollinators need plants that bloom throughout the year. Birds feed their young on insects, not seed, so a larger insect population just keeps helping! You'll never create, say, endangered wolf habitat on your city lot, but you can do a TON for insects and birds!

Ahem. Pet issue of mine. Everyone should go read Douglas Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home, and then I'll shut up.

As for the neonicotinoid, a friend was just telling me about studies with Imidacloprid, which is one of them, because it's a key ingredient in topical flea preventatives for pets (the topical pet use is apparently one of the safest uses for it, and you shouldn't feel guilty for using it on your pet -- thank god). On the one hand, they're better than a lot of other options because of substantially reduced toxicity to mammals (which has been an issue with all the other pesticides), and she says there's interesting research being done on ways to deliver the neonicotinoid in such a way that it only impacts the critters that actually try to nom the crop. But until that gets figured out -- IF it gets figured out -- they're heavily implicated in bee death, and that's a serious issue.

I rather think the EU's two year ban is a reasonable idea -- it's short enough that you can evaluate any unintended consequences before they're stuck forever, and long enough that with the short lifespan of insects, they should be able to see whether it's making a difference.

hinoema 14th-May-2013 05:03 am (UTC)
I have acreage in southern Arizona, and for the last ten years I've been 'rehabilitating' it. I ripped up the black plastic, took out the gravel and banned all pesticides and yard chemicals. When I moved in, it was typical sand and cactus. Now it's covered with grasses, ground covers, flowers and plants. Oh, and bees.

Everyone should go read Douglas Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home...

I'll do that!
fenris_lorsrai 13th-May-2013 08:07 pm (UTC)
The same drought that left Midwestern corn fields parched and wilting also dried up wildflowers and starved the bees.

probably an easy way to combat this issue nationwide is basically stop mowing the central median on highways. Brushhog it once a year to keep it from going to forest, but leave it rest of the time. That produces a huge amount of wildflowers and they're fed by road runoff. Just trim it where you need the sightline, but otherwise it actually works as a good way to slow vehicles that go off the road.

But we want them to look pretty, so mow they down like a lawn.
the_physicist 13th-May-2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
i was once stuck in a three hour traffic jam caused by very slow mowing of the grass down the centre of the motor way. for that reason alone, i think it's best to leave it alone. :/
otana 13th-May-2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
And this is why I try to buy local farmer's market honey. It's exactly the same price as the stuff in the supermarket but the flavor is so much better and it helps support local beekeepers.
dixiedolphin 14th-May-2013 01:01 am (UTC)
Plus, eating honey sourced locally also helps boost your resistance to local allergies.
je11ifysh 14th-May-2013 01:38 am (UTC)

green rooftops planted with insects in mind might be another option. can't hurt.

hinoema 14th-May-2013 05:16 am (UTC)
Absolutely; not to mention cleaning the atmosphere, lowering energy used to heat and cool, providing space for rooftop gardening, etc etc.
sunhawk 14th-May-2013 03:33 am (UTC)
Someone the other day mentioned offhand that dandelions are really important to bees as one of the first flowers to pop up in the spring and even though I consider myself interested in bees, I had never heard that and it makes me against weed pesticides more than ever :// I love dandelions anyway but it's really sad how we are doing all these things that are just knocking down resources and support for bees.
romp 14th-May-2013 04:31 am (UTC)
Beekeeping isn't terribly hard, at least in the PNW. We have them and people are crazy for the honey. We have enough for ourselves (daily in coffee, sometimes in yogurt, help allergies) and sell a bit. For this upcoming year, two local businesses want to buy some--we hope to trade them for chocolate and restaurant meals.

All our neighbours dig having more bees and we do have more cherries and apples now...
little_rachael 15th-May-2013 08:00 am (UTC)
Awww, I like bees. :(
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