Honey Bees Are Back
Thanks to Commercial Beekeepers
Summer has finally arrived in Montana, and so have pollinating bees, here and nationwide. Remem-ber the honeybee crisis, the die off in bees that pollinate so many crops, otherwise known as colony collapse disorder? It’s not such a problem afterall, we are told, and we have commercial beekeepers (and bees themselves) to thank for it.
Professors Randal R. Rucker and Walter N. Thurman wrote an op-ed last month published in the Wall Street Journal that explained how honeybees made their comeback. Rucker is a professor of agri-cultural economics and economics at Montana State University, and Thurman is a professor of agricul-tural and resource economics at North Carolina State University. Both are fellows at the Bozeman-based Property and Environment Research Center. In Blessed Are the Beekeepers (WSJ, June 22, 2011), Rucker and Thurman reveal that, in spite of the worry and foreboding implications about colony collapse disorder, bee populations are doing just fine.
Although colony collapse spiked winter bee colony losses (a natural occurrence) from an average of 15 to 30 percent, springtime bees have not decreased.
Beekeepers came to the rescue by first dividing, then “requeening,” their bee colonies, and doing so resulted in more bees in 2010 than seen in over a decade.
“What is truly remarkable, then,” wrote Rucker and Thurman, “is that the pollinating services of bees, and the fruits and vegetables of their labors, have remained steady in the face of CCD. In light of this fact, we propose a celebration—to pay homage to the resilience of honeybees and to the business acumen and perseverance of commer-cial beekeepers.”
Rucker and Thurman also point out that honey and pollinating prices have not changed very much. Had CCD taken hold in the industry, they would have expected honey output to fall and prices to rise.
“Commercial beekeepers routinely fight diseases and parasites that threaten their tiny livestock,” the professors wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “They apply miticides. They monitor and manipu-late their colonies’ genetic stock. And they adjust to changing circumstances, such as increased winter mortality, by increasing bee populations in anticipation of winter losses. It is these efforts that explain the relative stability of the nation’s bee population and its products in the face of CCD and other diseases and parasites.…we can be grateful that CCD has had no measurable, let alone drastic, effects on the availability of fruits, vegetables, nuts and honey.”
In the United States, about 2,000 commercial beekeepers manage roughly 2.5 million hives. The beekeepers travel with their bees every year to pollinate a variety of fruits and vegetables, including onions, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries, almonds, cranberries, blueberries, and many more—a service necessary to the nations food supply and nutritional well being.
The Prairie Star, out of Great Falls, reported early this year that 2010's abundant hay harvest resulted not only from abundant rains, but from bees.
“Bees pollinate alfalfa fields across the West and, in order to keep up with the blossoming plants, the tiny pollinators worked long and hard this summer,” wrote the Star’s Terri Adams.
“Though 2010 harvest yields are not yet finalized,” Adams continued, “last year Montana hives produced over 10 million pounds of honey and ranked fourth nationally in honey production.”