Mysterious Loss of Bees Threatens Agriculture, Economy

Post a Comment » Written on May 30th, 2008     
Filed under: News
HADDAM, KS (May 30, 2008) – Robert and Donna Brown own Brown Honey Farms, the largest bee operation in Kansas. Donna’s brother, Richard Adee, owns Adee Honey Farms, the largest such operation in the United States.

Both of the families, which have connections to Brantford Covenant Church in Clyde, Kansas, are praying that their businesses will survive the mysterious deaths of at least half their hives, a disaster that has put some other beekeepers out of business.

“It’s sweeping the whole country,” says Adee, who grew up in the Brantford congregation and now lives in South Dakota. Scientists are referring to the problem as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Bees“We don’t know what’s causing the problem,” says Donna Brown, who attends the Brantford church. She adds that in 45 years of business, she has never seen anything like the current disaster.

The businesses are important, not only for the beekeepers who sell honey, but also for farmers across the country who depend on the insects to pollinate their crops. For example, beekeepers ship bees to California every winter to pollinate almond trees. Without bees, almond fields would yield about 200 pounds of shriveled almonds per acre. With bees, they produce 2,000 to 3,000 pounds per acre.

Last December, Adee sent 155 semi-trailers carrying 70,000 hives to California in order to pollinate the crops. Within two months he had lost 28,000 hives – 50 semi-trailers worth of bees. Each hive can have 40,000 to 60,000 bees.

“It was tragic,” Adee says. “It was brutal.”

The deaths ultimately may affect consumers. The U.S. Agriculture Department says one third of people’s diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and bees are responsible for 80 percent of the pollination.

Theories about the disappearance include viruses, pesticides, and genetic alterations in plants. Scientists don’t know, however, because the dead bees are never found, so they cannot be examined.

Speculation surrounded a virus spread by bees introduced from Australia several years ago, but Agriculture Department researchers have ruled out that cause. Adee still believes they may have played a role. Other viruses also may be involved.

Brown says she thinks genetic alterations in some crops may be contributors. She notes that some of their hives near altered soybean crops died off while bees that pollinated sunflowers suffered no more than ordinary losses.

Systemic pesticides – which generally work their way up through a plant following its absorption – often end up poisoning the nectar or pollen in order to control pests other than bees. Still they may be attacking the bees as well, say Brown and Adee.

Both beekeepers say they are concerned about the future of their operations because their children and grandchildren are involved in the businesses. Their father, Vernon, started keeping bees to help supplement his schoolteacher salary during the Depression.

The Browns and Adees remain hopeful, however, that their latest generations of bees will have built up a resistance to whatever the pathogens may be. They also are doing a lot of praying.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Report This Post

Leave a Reply

Report This Blog