November 23, 2013 at 11:38 pm #1202MikeKeymaster
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
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
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
“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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