Colony Collapse Disorder: Bees Are Doing Okay, BeeKeepers Feeling the Main Effects

Washington Post writer Christopher Ingraham reported recently that, “You’ve probably heard the bad news, by now, that bees were recently added to the endangered species list for the first time. But if you’re part of the 60 percent of people who share stories without actually reading them, you might have missed an important detail: namely, that the newly-endangered bees are a handful of relatively obscure species who live only in Hawaii.

“The bees you’re more familiar with — the ones that buzz around your yard dipping into flowers, making honey, pollinating crops and generally keeping the world’s food supply from collapsing? Those bees are doing just fine, according to data released by the USDA this year.

“In 2015, there were 2.66 million commercial honey-producing bee colonies in the United States. That’s down slightly from the 2.74 million colonies in 2014, which represented a two-decade high. The number of commercial bee colonies is still significantly higher than it was in 2006, when colony collapse disorder — the mass die-offs that began afflicting U.S. honeybee colonies — was first documented.”

Mr. Ingraham explained that, “Those 2.66 million colonies represent a greater number than just about any year since the late 1990s. How’s that possible, considering all the die-offs we’ve been hearing about?

America’s beekeepers are busy at work managing their colonies and replacing the ones that die off. Beekeepers have a number of ways to replenish their stock: They can split one healthy colony into two. They can also breed their own queen bees, which can be sold to other keepers in need of a queen to start a new colony.

“For the 2017 season, 3 pounds of bees plus a queen will set you back about $100 or so.”

The article pointed out that, “The thing is, all of this colony-splitting and queen-breeding takes time, money and effort. It means that the main effects of colony collapse disorder aren’t being felt by the bees themselves, but by the people who breed and manage them. Beekeeping is a business, after all.”

Mr. Ingraham added that, “The cost of those losses are currently getting passed on to the consumer. The average retail price of honey has roughly doubled since 2006, according to the National Honey Board. And pollination services, where keepers drive semi-trucks full of bees from farm to farm to pollinate crops, are getting more expensive too.”

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