Bee shortage – 05/03/2006

  • November 23, 2013 at 11:38 pm #1202

    Agriculture feels sting
    Pollination season cut short
    By Melissa Murphy/Staff Writer

    A growing shortage of honey-bees is all the buzz in agricultural
    circles these days and it could ultimately sting consumers.
    In California last year, as much as 50 percent of the bee population
    was severely weakened or killed, according to the American
    Beekeeping Federation.

    The reasons behind the shortages vary but mites, viruses and
    pesticides are the biggest culprits, say beekeeping experts. Coupled
    with a longer-than-normal rainy season this year, the bee shortage
    could spell bad news for seasonal crops.

    “Bees don’t fly in the rain,” explained John Rotteveel, a local
    almond grower. “The window of opportunity to pollinate the tree is
    very small.”

    In ideal conditions, bees pollinate between three and four weeks
    starting in February.

    Rotteveel said that is usually plenty of time for complete

    But this year, rains that stretched into March and April reduced the
    time for the bees to pollinate. When the bees can’t pollinate all
    the trees, it reduces production for the growers, Rotteveel said.

    Tom Parisian, owner of Taber Honey Bee Genetics in Vacaville, is
    well aware of the shortages.

    Parasitic mites prey on the bees and make them sick, he said. There
    have been numerous attempts to find a chemical that kills the mites,
    but there is yet to be a significant cure.

    “It is a very hard disease to combat,” Parisian said. “A new
    chemical will hopefully put our bee losses at less than 10 percent.

    Still, much like humans, if one bee gets a virus, then most of the
    hive will contract the virus as well.

    “We’ve been trying to control the bee shortage, but it’s a worsening
    problem,” Parisian said.

    Parisian has worked for more than 20 years, genetically selecting
    for disease resistant bees in order to produce healthy bees.

    Adding to beekeeper woes nationwide are backyard gardeners wiping
    out bee populations with use of pesticides. Beekeepers say its
    important for people to know the difference between attacker insects
    such as wasps, yellow jackets and hornets, and the gentle
    pollinators such as honey bees, leaf cutters and wild bumblebees.

    All the bee woes have translated into higher prices for farmers.
    Hives are renting for twice as much as they were just a couple of
    years ago, said Eric Mussen, an entomologist at the University of
    California, Davis.

    “The good news is that bees have an amazing ability to grow a colony
    at a rapid pace,” Mussen added.

    In the meantime, growers and beekeepers are coming up with unique
    solutions to fill the pollination requirements.

    Usually two bee hives are placed for each acre, but with a shorter
    pollination time this year, twice as many were put in place, said

    Another solution to help with the bee population has been to
    transport bees from out of state. Some bees are moved from as far as
    the east coast.

    After the almond season, the bees will pollinate sunflowers,
    watermelon, squash and cucumbers during the summer. All of
    pollination by bees is completed by the end of September or early

    MediaNews Group wire service
    contributed to this report.
    Melissa Murphy can be reached at dixon@….

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