from bridget – 04/05/2007′, ‘What Is Causing Central Valley Bee Crisis?
Apr. 3 – KGO – There is a crisis in the Central Valley that could jeopardize billions of dollars in crops. Something is causing teh valley’s bee population to dwindle. It’s a problem that has bee keepers scratching their heads, and farmers wondering who to pollinate their crops.
They are vital to the success of California’s $1.4 billion-dollar almond industry – honey bees. But something is killing these pollinators, jeopardizing 80-percent of the world’s almond production — and possibly crippling other crops.
Eric Mussen, UC Davis: "About one-third of the fruits and vegetables we consume every day rely upon honey bee pollination."
At UC Davis Apiculturist Eric Mussen is one of the top bee researcher’s in the country. He says the problem started on the east coast – moved throughout the midwest and has now turned up in California’s Central Valley.
Eric Mussen: "We really don’t know exactly what is happening – but a number of colonies starting last summer – began to lose their adult bee populations. And the bees apparently just flew away and didn’t come back."
Among the possible causes is "colony collapse." That’s when entire hives dies off unexplainably en masse.
Max Eggmen, Beekeeper: "I’ve personally lost 830 beehives out of a 1,000."
Beekeeper Max Eggmen of Terra Bella near Bakersfield suspects that’s what killed his bees. All these hives are empty the bees you see, those are just stragglers. Eggmen estimates his losses add up to more than $160,000 dollars.
In Fresno County, third generation beekeeper Bryan Beekman has lost up to $70,000 dollars worth of bees in 760 hives. He suspects his bees were poisoned by a new class of pesticides.
Bryan Beekman, beekeeper: "Even though you are register them with the county and they are supposed to give you a 48 hour notice — there are still a lot of people that spray that don’t bother to call the county or they got a bug problem, and they don’t have time to wait and they just do it."
Local agricultural officials aren’t ruling out pesticides as the cause – but in both cases they are also looking at the possibility that a predatory mite has invaded these hives. The verroa mite can devastate a bee colony.
But researchers say the cause may be simple malnutrition.
Eric Mussen, UC Davis: "We do know that if the bees aren’t well fed – if the bees don’t get a good mix of quality pollen – then they are weaker."
There is also a chance that the losses in bee populations is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Similar to fluctuations in population have been documented in the 1960’s and the 70’s. Still state officials are keeping a watchful eye on the situation fearful it may become a permanent problem.
California agricultural secretary A.G. Nakamura worries that any future bee shortages could devastate California crops.
A.G. Nakamura, CA Agricultural Secretary: "We depend on bees for a tremendous amount of pollination of an enormous amount of crops – in other words if the bees don’t pollinate those flowers the fruits don’t come out of it."
To make up for part of the bee shortage domestically – some bees are being brought in from Australia while valley beekeepers try to rebuild their colonies.
Written and produced by Ken Miguel.
Copyright 2007, ABC7/KGO-TV/DT.