No Fruits of Their Labor? Mysterious Drop in Bees Is a Threat to Our Food Supply

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 7, 2007 | Go to article overview

No Fruits of Their Labor? Mysterious Drop in Bees Is a Threat to Our Food Supply


Byline: Jameel Naqvi

jnaqvi@@dailyherald.com

The bees are disappearing, and no one knows why.

Since last fall, hundreds of thousands of beehives around the United States have been wiped out.

The scientists who study bees - apiologists - are mystified. They say the culprit could be anything from pesticides to parasites to inadequate nutrition or a combination of factors.

At stake is billions of dollars in food - from fruits and vegetables to crops that feed livestock - dependent on bees for pollination.

If all honey bees were to disappear, many fruit and vegetable crops could be decimated.

Commercial beekeepers, hired by farmers to pollinate their crops, already are charging higher fees as their bees disappear, fees that could mean higher food prices for the consumer.

Illinois could be hit particularly hard by the phenomenon. The state's pumpkin harvest, the largest in the nation, requires bee pollination and could be devastated without enough bees to go around.

Tom's Farm Market and Greenhouses in Huntley is one of the local pumpkin farms that would suffer if bees were not available. The 240-acre farm brings in bees from Marengo each year to pollinate its crops.

Illinois has been mostly spared from the epidemic apiologists are calling colony collapse disorder, or CCD. There have been no confirmed cases in Illinois, according to Steve Chard, who oversees the state's inspections of bee colonies.

But some Illinois beekeepers have reported significant bee losses they attribute to CCD, and Bee Alert, a Montana firm that conducts a national survey on CCD, includes Illinois on its list of 34 states that have reported the phenomenon.

"I think we'll eventually have it in all states," said Troy Fore, executive director of the American Beekeeping Federation. "I think some states have just reported it sooner."

So far, 25 percent of bee colonies in the United States, or 600,000 colonies, have been devastated by CCD, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.

Some large commercial beekeepers, who have borne the brunt of CCD, have lost more than half of their beehives, according to the CCD Working Group.

The phenomenon that has been ravaging bee yards, or apiaries, across the nation is very much on the minds of the more than 1,200 registered beekeepers in Illinois.

"There seems to be something that is driving bees right out of the hive, and that scares me," said John Hansen, who keeps about 20 colonies at locations throughout the suburbs.

CCD will be the subject of the keynote address at this week's Midwest Beekeeping Symposium and the Illinois State Beekeepers Association annual spring meeting.

The combined events - which feature informational seminars for veteran beekeepers and beginners - will be at the McHenry Community College Conference Center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. More than 130 Illinois beekeepers already have registered for the event.

University of Montana Professor Jerry Bromenshenk will deliver the speech on the latest CCD research.

CCD is affecting more than just honey production. Bees play a vital role in pollinating crops that eventually find their way into one-third of the U. …

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