The large scale death of honeybee colonies in the US is often referred to as CCD, or Colony-Collapse Disorder. It has been taking place in massive quantities since 2006, with nearly one third of the bee population dying out each year. In late 2012 and early 2013, beekeepers lost approximately 31% of their colonies. If this rate continues, the USDA believes that we could be facing a pollination crisis in the near future.
Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over 100 crops that provide a major worldwide food source, contributing more than $15 billion to US crop production. From apples to almonds to onions, dozens of crops could be at risk of shortage if honey bees continue to die out in such large numbers.
The USDA completed a comprehensive study to try and identify the cause of this issue, but they were unable to point to one single determinant. Because of the complex nature of the honeybee life cycle, small changes from hive to hive could have a major impact on the health of the colony.
One factor that has been linked to CCD is the use of pesticides classified as neonicotinoids, which may disrupt bees’ central nervous systems. Neonicotinoids have been banned in the EU, but the USDA has not placed a ban on these substances as there is not enough conclusive evidence to do so.
The parasitic mite Varroa destructor has also been identified as a source of harm for honey bee colonies. Known to farmers as the vampire mite, this bug sucks the fluids from honey bees and can wipe out entire colonies at once. Along with poor nutrition and genetic weaknesses caused by inbreeding, some combination of these factors is leading to massive honey bee deaths.
Farmers and gardeners can take steps to help the honey bee populations in their area while researchers continue to look for long-term solutions to CCD. Include nectar- and pollen-rich plantings in gardens, especially those that bloom in colors that attract honey bees. Eliminate the use of chemicals on your garden or farm, and encourage your neighbors and friends to do the same. Continue to support local farmers who promote sustainable practices and are doing what they can to help the honey bees.
As farmers, gardeners and citizens of the world, we hope to do our part to ensure that we can all enjoy honey bee products for many years to come!
http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf - The full USDA report on CCD
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130510-honeybee-bee-science-european-union-pesticides-colony-collapse-epa-science/ - An article from National Geographic explaining the potential causes of CCD
http://beeinformed.org/ - The Bee-Informed Partnership, which is committed to solving the problems of beekeepers in the US