More bees, please

Who cares about a declining honeybee population?

Everyone should.

The majority of the food that we eat is reliant on honeybee pollination. As honeybees gather pollen and nectar for their survival, they simultaneously pollinate crops.

There are about 2.4 million honeybee colonies in the U.S. today, two-thirds of which travel the country each year pollinating crops and producing honey and beeswax.
Though that number may seem like a lot, the business of beekeeping, also known as apiculture, has received a lot of media attention in the past couple of years because of a scarcity in bee colonies.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports a 29-percent drop in beehives in 2009, following a 36-percent decline in 2008 and a 32-percent decline in 2007. The scarcity results from weather stressors, the shift of the country to an industrial economy, loss of land to subdivisions and highways, price competition from imports and complications from the spread of parasitic mites. There is some speculation that cell-phone signals may also be a contributing factor.

The scarcity is of extreme importance because honeybees provide a great service to the agriculture industry.

According to The American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), “The $14.6 billion contribution made by managed honey bees comes in the form of increased yields and superior quality crops for growers and American consumers — a healthy beekeeping industry is invaluable to a healthy U.S. agricultural economy.”

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, “Depending on the part of the country and other environmental factors, a typical colony of bees can produce 80 to 120 pounds of surplus (harvestable) honey and 10 to 18 pounds of pollen in an average year.”

Pollination Facts (ABF)
  • Honeybees contribute $14.6 billion to the value of U.S. crop production.
  • Some crops, including blueberries and cherries, are 90-percent dependent on honeybee pollination
  • Almonds are 100-percent dependent on honeybee pollination
“Seventy-five percent to 80 percent of all flowering plants require a visit by a pollinator,” said Laurie Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership in an Akron Beacon Journal story. “As much as one of every three bites of food we eat comes from food pollinated by animals.”

Honeybees also pollinate animal-feed crops, such as clover that’s fed to dairy cows.

While most don’t associate honeybee farming with traditional agriculture, the farm sector experiences the same variable marketplace, unpredictable weather and administrative oversight as all other industry sectors.
Beekeepers, like farmers and ranchers, are subject to state-inspection. These programs are usually administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some states even have full time staff to manage apiary regulation.

To help boost the honeybee population, consumers can plant natural gardens, ignore bothersome honeybees instead of trying to kill them, and write to lawmakers expressing support for legislation that could positively affect the industry.

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