Declining Bee Population – A Cause For Concern

The recent decline in bee population has been a cause for concern for farmers across America. It has been observed that approximately a third of the bee colonies in the country have disappeared since last winter, and for no apparent reason. And worryingly, when bee colonies perish through a “colony-collapse disorder”, it impacts not just the production of honey, but also the entire agriculture industry.

Bees have long been useful in aiding crop production – they play an important role in facilitating pollination, a key step in the production of fruits and vegetables. Bees facilitate pollination across a wide variety of everyday fruits and vegetables, staple to the standard American diet, such as apples, cherries and watermelons. When the pollination process fails to occur, production of these crops will suffer, and drive food prices significantly higher. This will mean an increased burden on farmers, who are still recovering from last year’s aggressive drought conditions, and a bigger dent in the average American household budget.

Food production aside, the Agriculture Department estimates that the loss of bee colonies will bring about an immense financial toll on the entire agriculture industry. Figures shared by the Department indicate that crop production through pollination by bees can be estimated at a value of $20 billion. Further, the indirect contribution they make to the dairy and meat industry, through production of fodder crop that are fed to the cows, is estimated at nearly $40 billion. Industry observers also fear deep losses for almond growers – almond is nearly entirely reliant on bee pollination, and growers in California are already worried over massive crop failures in the next harvest season, and gearing up for huge production losses.

Mass disappearances of bee colonies are not entirely a recent phenomenon – the first significant occurrence was reported in 2006, with a significant spike in disappearances over the past few years. For the moment, scientists are unable to establish why bees are perishing so rapidly, however, a range of possible factors such as malnutrition, parasites and diseases are being explored. Some believe that existing drought conditions in the country may also have a catalyzing role in their disappearance.

Recent reports also link the use of chemicals and pesticides to disappearance of bee colonies. Some have highlighted a possible link between oxytetracycline, a chemical used in farming, and the weakening of the bees’ immune systems. The impact of pesticides such as neonicotinoids is also being discussed, along with a possible ban on its use as in many European countries, however U.S. regulators are yet to consider such a move, as they lack adequate evidence linking the pesticide to the disappearance of bee colonies.

Bees are an essential part of the agriculture industry, and play a huge role in delivering the crop production process. The direct and indirect contribution made through the pollination process, benefits not just the agriculture industry, but also the economy at large. It is apparent that with so much at stake – from crop production to farmers’ livelihoods to food prices and family nutrition, finding an effective solution for the protection of bee colonies is a hugely important priority for the worlds food supply.

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