This is all over the news - if you search on Google there are tens of thousands of hits about this problem.
"If the enemy's troops march up angrily and remain facing ours for a long time without either joining battle or taking themselves off again, the situation is one that demands great vigilance and circumspection." -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Here is another article on the subject. It seems that 24 states have now experienced the issue. One person has gone as far as to call this the AIDS of the bee world.
|Honeybees Vanish, Leaving Crops and Keepers in Peril |
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
VISALIA, Calif., Feb. 23 - David Bradshaw has endured countless stings during his life as a beekeeper, but he got the shock of his career when he opened his boxes last month and found half of his 100 million bees missing.
In 24 states throughout the country, beekeepers have gone through similar shocks as their bees have been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of numerous crops, including California almonds, one of the nation's most profitable.
"I have never seen anything like it," Mr. Bradshaw, 50, said from an almond orchard here beginning to bloom. "Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home."
The sudden mysterious losses are highlighting the critical link that honeybees play in the long chain that gets fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables across the country.
As researchers scramble to find answers to the syndrome they have decided to call "colony collapse disorder," growers are becoming openly nervous about the capability of the commercial bee industry to meet the growing demand for bees to pollinate dozens of crops, from almonds to avocados to kiwis.
Along with recent stresses on the bees themselves, as well as on an industry increasingly under consolidation, some fear this disorder may force a breaking point for even large beekeepers.
A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. "Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food," said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
The bee losses are ranging from 30 to 60 percent on the West Coast, with some beekeepers on the East Coast and in Texas reporting losses of more than 70 percent; beekeepers consider a loss of up to 20 percent in the offseason to be normal.
Once the domain of hobbyists with a handful of backyard hives, beekeeping has become increasingly commercial and consolidated. Over the last two decades, the number of beehives, now estimated by the Agriculture Department to be 2.4 million, has dropped by a quarter and the number of beekeepers by half.
Pressure has been building on the bee industry. The costs to maintain hives, also known as colonies, are rising along with the strain on bees of being bred to pollinate rather than just make honey. And beekeepers are losing out to suburban sprawl in their quest for spots where bees can forage for nectar to stay healthy and strong during the pollination season.
"There are less beekeepers, less bees, yet more crops to pollinate," Mr. Browning said. "While this sounds sweet for the bee business, with so much added loss and expense due to disease, pests and higher equipment costs, profitability is actually falling."
Some 15 worried beekeepers convened in Florida this month to brainstorm with researchers how to cope with the extensive bee losses. Investigators are exploring a range of theories, including viruses, a fungus and poor bee nutrition.
They are also studying a group of pesticides that were banned in some European countries to see if they are somehow affecting bees" innate ability to find their way back home.
It could just be that the bees are stressed out. Bees are being raised to survive a shorter offseason, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. That has most likely lowered their immunity to viruses.
Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill mites are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many worker bees. The queens are living half as long as they did just a few years ago.
Researchers are also concerned that the willingness of beekeepers to truck their colonies from coast to coast could be adding to bees" stress, helping to spread viruses and mites and otherwise accelerating whatever is afflicting them.
Dennis van Engelsdorp, a bee specialist with the state of Pennsylvania who is part of the team studying the bee colony collapses, said the 'strong immune suppression" investigators have observed "could be the AIDS of the bee industry," making bees more susceptible to other diseases that eventually kill them off.
Growers have tried before to do without bees. In past decades, they have used everything from giant blowers to helicopters to mortar shells to try to spread pollen across the plants. More recently researchers have been trying to develop 'self-compatible" almond trees that will require fewer bees. One company is even trying to commercialize the blue orchard bee, which is virtually stingless and works at colder temperatures than the honeybee.
Beekeepers have endured two major mite infestations since the 1980s, which felled many hobbyist beekeepers, and three cases of unexplained disappearing disorders as far back as 1894. But those episodes were confined to small areas, Mr. van Engelsdorp said.
California's almond crop, by far the biggest in the world, now draws more than half of the country's bee colonies in February. The crop has been both a boon to commercial beekeeping and a burden, as pressure mounts for the industry to fill growing demand. Now spread over 580,000 acres stretched across 300 miles of California's Central Valley, the crop is expected to grow to 680,000 acres by 2010.
Beekeepers now earn many times more renting their bees out to pollinate crops than in producing honey. Two years ago a lack of bees for the California almond crop caused bee rental prices to jump, drawing beekeepers from the East Coast.
This year the price for a bee colony is about $135, up from $55 in 2004, said Joe Traynor, a bee broker in Bakersfield, Calif.
A typical bee colony ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 bees. But beekeepers" costs are also on the rise. In the past decade, fuel, equipment and even bee boxes have doubled and tripled in price.
The cost to control mites has also risen, along with the price of queen bees, which cost about $15 each, up from $10 three years ago.
To give bees energy while they are pollinating, beekeepers now feed them protein supplements and a liquid mix of sucrose and corn syrup carried in tanker-sized trucks costing $12,000 per load. Over all, Mr. Bradshaw figures, in recent years he has spent $145 a hive annually to keep his bees alive, for a profit of about $11 a hive, not including labor expenses. The last three years his net income has averaged $30,000 a year from his 4,200 bee colonies, he said.
"A couple of farmers have asked me, "Why are you doing this?" " Mr. Bradshaw said. "I ask myself the same thing. But it is a job I like. It is a lifestyle. I work with my dad every day. And now my son is starting to work with us."
To cope with the losses, beekeepers have been scouring elsewhere for bees to fulfill their contracts with growers. Lance Sundberg, a beekeeper from Columbus, Mont., said he spent $150,000 in the last two weeks buying 1,000 packages of bees - amounting to 14 million bees - from Australia.
He is hoping the Aussie bees will help offset the loss of one-third of the 7,600 hives he manages in six states. "The fear is that when we mix the bees the die-offs will continue to occur," Mr. Sundberg said.
Still on top of the news this week.
|Back in May of 2006, Technocrat covered a story about honeybees vanishing from Britain. The tone of the story was more curious than alarmed. Honeybees aren't major pollinators in Britain. However, late last year beekeepers in the U.S. started to see strange declines in their hive populations. Originally tagged Fall Dwindle Disease, it has now been renamed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) as bee populations in some States have declined 50-90%. It is so bad, a good deal of the U.S. food crop is threatened.|
The results are gruesome. Bees simply fly off and die, mostly disappearing. Those that survive have evidence of almost a dozen different diseases and fungal infections. It is as if their immune system totally ceased to function.
To give you an idea of the scope of the problem, the U.S. almond crop is 100% pollinated by honeybees. In 2006, it was worth $2.2 billion. Apples and Blueberries are 90% pollinated by honeybees, with crop values of $2.1 billion and $500 million respectively for 2006.
Here's an article from the UK, having the same problem! What is going on?
| Flowers and fruit crops facing disaster as disease kills off bees|
By Jasper Copping
Last Updated: 11:25pm BST 31/03/2007
Devastating diseases are killing off vast numbers of bees across the country, threatening major ecological and economic problems. Honeybee colonies have been wiped out this winter at twice the usual rate or worse in some areas.
The losses are the result of either Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a disease that has already decimated bee populations in the US and parts of Europe, or a new, resistant form of Varroa destructor, a parasite that attacks bees.
Experts fear that, because honeybees are responsible for 80 per cent of all pollination as they collect nectar for the hive, there could be severe ecological problems with flowers, fruit and crops failing to grow.....
.....Bee-keepers in Poland, Greece, Croatia, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal have also reported heavy losses. Meanwhile, scientists at universities in Southampton and Stirling who are concerned about declining numbers of wild bumblebees - which also aid pollination - are to use dogs to search for colonies in Scotland and Hertfordshire this year.
Here is a frightening thought. It seems that some scientist believe that cell phones may be responsible for CCD.
If this is true, the disorder is going to be around for quite a while!
Here's a funny quote from your article, Vincenzo:
|Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."|
BEES STILL BUZZING IN MANITOBA - SO FAR
While bees have been having a tough time in other parts of the world, a local expert says they do not appear to be having problems in Manitoba, at least, not yet.
Here's another theory on the list:
|A limited study at Landau University has found that bees will abandon their hives when cell phones are turned on and placed next to them.|
..."Are honey bees the canary in the coal mine?" asks Jerry Hayes, an official with the Florida Department of Agriculture. "What are honey bees trying to tell us that we humans should be paying more attention to?"