In 2006, beekeepers David Hackenberg and David Mendes spoke before Congress on a problem among honeybees that scientists were calling Colony Collapse Disorder. Hackenberg was the first to observe this phenomenon, but by the time his voice was heard in Congress it had affected countless bee farmers across thirty-five states. Since 2006, the problem has only compounded. For example, from 2006 to 2011 alone, bee populations plummeted by thirty-three percent each year!
Though the cause of this rapid decline in honeybee populations remains to some extent a mystery, several major factors seem to share the blame. The widespread use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers has made the nectar and pollen for which honeybees forage laced with chemicals. Another major factor seems to be the increased attacks by mites, such as the tracheal mites and viruses such as the varroa virus. Synthetic miticides are often infused directly into the hive, further compounding the bees’ exposer to toxins.
There can be no doubt that if something is not done about this mass death of bees, the future of our agriculture looks grim. One in every three crops produced worldwide is dependent on a pollinator. In the United States alone, bees add $15 billion each year to the value of the crops grown. Fox news reports that without bees we could have no apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, avocados, cucumbers, onions, grapefruit, oranges, or pumpkins.
But if bees die out, we will not only loose their pollination services. We will also loose the products directly produced by honeybees—namely honey and beeswax. Honeybees forage for nectar and pollen ranging from their hive as far as six miles. They bring the nectar back to the hive where they convert it to honey. The honey is then stored in hexagonal cylinders, each of which is capped with a white beeswax top. Many health care products, especially those for the skin, contains beeswax, making use of its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and emollient properties.
But the most popular honeybee product is honey itself. Each year approximately 36,000 metric tons of honey are produced in Canada alone. In the U.S., North Dakota is the leading state for honey production giving us a little over 15,000 metric tons of honey at an estimated dollar value of $67,565,000.
There is no question but that as the natural honeybee populations continue to decline, production of natural honey that we all enjoy will start to dry up. Worker bees are responsible to gather the nectar needed so that the hive can produce honey and store the excess (which is then harvested). Thus, the number of bees and the amount of honey produced are directly proportional. In other words, the more bees that live in the colony, the more honey they will produce. This principle applies on the international level: the more bees that remain alive worldwide, the more honey will be available to be harvested in the global economy.
As honeybee populations, colonies and the amount of honey produced continue to decline, prices of honey will likely rise. No doubt enterprising companies will scramble to find substitutes and the market demand for honey will dip somewhat. In fact, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Honey” has already hit the shelves in grocery stores and the ads on youtube.com.
However, any real solution to the declining honeybee problem must come at a government level. Regulations to limit bee-killers will help somewhat, but the real need is for additional funding to those who are raising and protecting our honeybee populations.