Honeybees are in trouble, and so are the farmers who rely on them to pollinate an estimated one-third of the human diet — everything from almond and fruit trees to cantaloupes and cucumbers.
Tom Theobald, who owns Niwot Honey Farm
outside Boulder, Colo., says 30 percent of his bees died this year.
Other beekeepers say they have lost up to 90 percent.
Although the exact causes remain unclear, the disease-carrying,
parasitic varroa mite is the prime suspect, along with the use of
pesticides. "Spraying has been a problem since the late
’70s," says Paul Hendricks, owner of Colorado Sunshine Honey
Company (HCN, 1/20/97: Bees under siege).
become an increasingly unstable business, as honey prices plummet
from a foreign flooding of the market, and the honeybees die off in
larger and larger numbers. "I don’t know if I can make it
anymore," says Theobald, who has raised bees for more than 30
In the last 50 years, the number of managed bee
colonies in the U.S. dropped from 6 million to around 2 million,
Beekeepers are lobbying for increased
enforcement of pesticide regulations and better land management,
while scientists are working on more effective miticides.
California’s almond farmers — who produce the
state’s largest agricultural export — could see the
greatest losses this year. The trees, which bloom at the end of
February, require 1.1 million bee hives for pollination. Prices for
hive rental have doubled as the date draws near. Without the bees,
says Hendricks, "all they’ve got is a fancy shade tree."