Farmers feel sting of honeybee epidemic

Sustainable Industries
by Amy Westervelt – 6.29.07

PORTLAND – Cheap honey imports have whittled away at the U.S. honey market for years, according to Mace Vaughan, conservation director for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. And because there’s little profit in honey, most beekeepers make their money by providing pollination services for farmers, he says. Now, the well-reported decline in honeybee populations could add to beekeepers’ woes.

According to Dr. Tammy Horn, author of “Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation,” U.S. agriculture is heavily dependent on the roughly 1,600 commercial beekeepers in the country, and colony collapse could have a dramatic affect on more than 90 crops.

“What this issue highlights is that we have an agricultural production system based almost totally on honeybees, and that’s a problem,” Vaughan says.

Across the board, farmers are paying $5 to $10 more per hive for pollination compared with last year.
Portland-based Xerces says it has spoken with orchard managers in California’s Central Valley and Oregon that have had trouble getting hives and to beekeepers in Pennsylvania that didn’t have enough honeybees to meet pollination contracts this year.

Vaughan suggests farmers consider diversifying planting techniques to attract native bees.

“Honeybees will always be our work horses,” he says. “But native bees can be actively managed to pollinate particular crops. If you only have 80 percent of the honeybees you need, native bees can get you that 20 percent more.

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