Most would point the fingers at the pesticide manufacturers and the industrial farmers as the main causes of the “Bee Crisis,” forcing beekeepers to adapt to stay in business, but I would also say the commercial beekeepers are partially at fault.
The Bee Crisis is a complex, multi-faceted issue that has the potential to impact every single one of us—eventually. There are other causes to the Bee Crisis besides industrial farming and the heavy use of pesticides, including Varroa mites and various viruses and diseases (Paxton, et al. S57).
Because of its complexity and the differing opinions of all those involved, it’s difficult to identify what the argument of the Bee Crisis actually is.
Everyone involved in the “Bee Crisis” is pointing fingers at possible causes and progress towards a solution is very slow. An article entitled “Bees, Inc.” written by Josh Dzieza references when the “Bee Crisis” first started: “Colony collapse disorder came to global attention in 2007.” It’s been almost a decade since the “Bee Crisis” was first reported by the mass media. A decade and we still haven’t come up with a lasting solution. Adaptation has been the only quick fix utilized; hopefully enough to keep up with the losses of hives.
Farmers: Pollination Services Are Vital
Farmers are one of the major stakeholders in the Bee Crisis. Commercial honeybees contribute over fifteen billion dollars to the U.S. economy by pollinating crops (Bjerga 29). Farmers need their crops to be pollinated in order to have bountiful harvests and (therefore) higher profits.
As discussed in previous posts, some farmers are using pesticides aggressively. It would be easy to point fingers at the companies who produce the pesticides and herbicides, but they are not forcing farmers to use them. The farmers that do use pesticides are creating the demand for those products in the first place.
However, some farmers have turned to the wild bee population for their pollination needs instead of renting honeybee hives, as described in the article “Betting on Nature to Solve the Bee Crisis” which was written by Alan Bjerga and published in Bloomsberg Newsweek. One of the farmers featured in the article, Ken Simpelaar, said that he stopped trucking in commercial honeybees to pollinate his apple orchard and “found he didn’t see any change in his yields” (Bjerga 29).
Now, you may be wondering what “renting” and “trucking in commercial honeybees” means. Commercial beekeepers don’t make the majority of their profit from honey.
Commercial Beekeepers: The Money’s not All Linked to the Honey
Beekeepers have a huge stake in the Bee Crisis. Both hobby and commercial beekeepers face losing their hives; for commercial beekeepers this would mean losing their main source of profit. Compared to the hobbyists, commercial beekeepers are the ones most risking potential profit losses.
Renting out Hives
Renting out hives to pollinate crops is the way that commercial beekeepers have adapted to stay in business and keep their hives thriving (Dzieza 48). Most of the profit made from beekeeping has shifted from collecting honey to pollinating crops.
“According to the USDA, in 2012, $656 million was paid in pollination fees—45 percent of it from [California] almonds” (Dzieza 49). That is a lot of money. It’s not as much as farmers make off of crops, as mentioned in the previous section, but it’s still a surprising amount.
Beekeepers may be exacerbating the “Bee Crisis” in their effort to adapt to industrial farming practices. Looking back to the “Bees Inc.”, the article states that, “Beekeepers haven’t figured out how to stop the losses, but they’ve found a way to outrun them, for now, by multiplying their hives faster than they can die off” (Dzieza 52). So at the moment, beekeepers are just staving off the inevitable.
However, the number of commercial honeybee hives may be one factor plaguing our pollinators. ” One major concern for bee conservation is the stress introduced into the whole pollination system by having too many commercial honeybee hives” (Paxton, Robert, et al. S59).
All of the commercial honeybee hives are competing with the wild pollinators. Because the commercial honeybees are outnumbering the wild pollinators wherever they are trucked, the commercial honeybees induce stress into the previously mentioned pollination system.
Another possible bad practice performed by commercial beekeepers is stagnating their honeybees’ genetic pool. “… honeybees’ natural reproduction is limited because new commercial hives are typically started using artificially inseminated queens, a practice that reduces genetic diversity” (Paxton, Robert, et al. S59). Commercial beekeepers are practically crippling the diversity of their hives instead of letting the honeybees naturally evolve.
Evolution is one possible solution to the “Bee Crisis.” The honeybee used in commercial ventures has “evolved to contain few detoxification and immunity genes” (Paxton, Robert, et al. S59). If the commercial beekeepers are not allowing the honeybee to evolve due to the use of artificial insemination, then genetic engineering is our best hope for a stronger honeybee.
Concerning the Bee Crisis, many of the parties involved are simply continuing business as usual while trying to figure out what the best solution is. None of the stakeholders involved would benefit from bees going extinct—as pollinators, they are a vital existence to all of us. Bees keep all of us fed with bountiful harvests and help both farmers and commercial beekeepers turn a profit. All of the stakeholders should be working together in order to reach a solution that will make all parties involved happy and keep the world from starving.
Bjerga, Alan. “Betting On Nature To Solve The Bee Crisis.” Bloomberg Businessweek 4427 (2015): 28-30. Business Source Complete. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Dzieza, Josh. “Bees, Inc.” Pacific Standard 8.1 (2015): 44-53. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Paxton, Robert, et al. “Entomology: The Bee-All and End-All.” Nature 521.s7552 (2015): S57-S59. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.