A swarm of honey bee issues may not have made it to the Capital Region,
but that doesn't mean it hasn't created a buzz.
Local small-time beekeepers are watching for signs of Colony Collapse Disorder, which could have serious crop repercussions if the epidemic combined with a drought, blight or other factors.
Colony Collapse Disorder -- CCD as it is known in the bee community -- has decimated bee populations across the country. Farmers depend on bees as pollinators to help fertilize crops.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to figure out what is causing the disorder.
Nearly one-third of the bee population has been lost each year to CCD, which appeared on the scene in 2006, according to the USDA. It's not the first time beekeepers have been affected, but it has created worry in the bee and farm worlds.
"In an immediate this year versus next year sense, it's hard to make a case that the world is going to end because of a bee shortage," Indian Ladder Farms owner Peter Ten Eyck said. "But the fact is something is happening in the bee world, and they're under a lot of stress. ... We don't know why we have about a third less bees. That could go south on us, and then you have a big problem."
The big problem could be shortages of vegetable and fruit crops. For apple growers like Ten Eyck, fewer bees could mean a bushel of trouble.
"I'm very much at risk because I work hard growing apples, but that's one thing we can't do without," he said. "We need bees to pollinate the crop. We can't have a crop of apples without pollination."
Some local honey producers say they aren't in trouble yet and have dealt with only the typical wintertime drops in bee population. Stephen Wilson of Wilson's Honey, who is chairman of the state Apiary Industry Advisory Council, said it's commercial keepers -- those with hundreds of hives they truck to farms for pollination -- who have really been stung by CCD.
At Rulison Honey Farm in Amsterdam, roughly 1,000 hives are usually abuzz as spring turns to summer. But this year the commercial keepers' hives dropped nearly 40 percent. Though it hasn't necessarily affected business -- Ben Rulison said they take only the strongest hives (upward of 250) to other farms at a time -- the keepers have spent more to keep their bees healthy and have spoken with farmers about potential negative pesticide effects, Rulison said.
Still, honey prices have been affected for the small and big guys.
Wilson said he knows there is a scarcity of the golden stuff, meaning he can charge more to meet demand, though he emphasized he doesn't price gouge. He said honey prices are now between $4.95 and $6.95 per pound for raw honey. Supermarket prices are near $4 or $5 per pound, he said, and he has recently seen a two-pound jar sell for as much as $16.
CCD could rear its head in terms of higher prices for imported produce and farmed goods if losses are combined with other factors. It starts with the beekeeper, who would need to spend more to recover from his or her population losses, Wilson said. From there, the farmer won't be able to get as many healthy hives for pollination, which would result in a lower yield. That scarcity drives up prices.
Ten Eyck said fewer bees has an effect but not necessarily a cause and effect relationship with crop prices. State Department of Agriculture & Markets spokesman Joe Morrissey said levels of food are based on factors ranging from temperature to rainfall to pollination, but it's a combination of factors that ultimately determines the size of the harvest. Ten Eyck is still cautious on the pollination end though.
"I'd say there are enough hives in the state to keep us apple growers going," he said. "But I'm concerned about where this thing is going."
While Rulison said his hives haven't been hit like even larger commercial keepers, he is guardedly optimistic that a solution will be found.
"We will overcome it in one sense," he said, referring to controlling the use of certain potentially harmful pesticides. "... (But) it's tough to say where we will be in five years. I'm not sure. It's kind of scary."
email@example.com, 518-454-5431, @matt_hamilton10
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