The Beekeeper reports from the first ever National Beekeeping Conference:
Now, what everyone has been waiting for ... beekeepers telling beekeepers about their personal experiences with Colony collapse Disorder (CCD). But wait! Theres more here than just a mystery. Theres pesticides aplenty here, and even if they arent the CCD curse, they are killing bees faster than beekeepers can make them.
David Mendes, a Massachusetts/Florida beekeeper with 7,000 colonies, talked about pesticides in the environments his bees must visit when pollinating crops and how these chemicals may be contributing to his problems ... and his problems are significant this year, as they were last year. His first comment was that pesticides arent tested by the EPA, nope. Pesticides are tested by the Chemical companies that make them, and then the EPA approves them for use, or not. Any guesses on how those results come out?
He talked about not only the financial but emotional stress loosing 60 80% of your bees has on beekeepers ... anything more than 50% in a year and it gets real, real hard to recover. Two years in a row and you could be looking for a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Whats different now, he asks ... And why me?
David Hackenburg, the first to report Colony Collapse Disorder (but not the first to watch it run through his hives, certainly), first told about the 2,000 or so colonies he had moved to Florida last week. This week, 80% were gone ... again. Gone with the same symptoms of CCD he saw in his bees last year.
He quoted Jerry Hayes, the State Apiary Inspector from Florida (where CCD is common) who said that beekeeping was the ugly step-child of American agriculture. How so? The government has made lots of promises about studying and fixing the CCD problem so far, Hackenburg said ... but so far not much has happened. He said he hasnt been too happy with Australian bees so far not saying anything about their implication in CCD (one disputed study suggested an Australian virus is connected to hives affected by CCD). He also mentioned pesticides, specifically Imadacloprid (banned in France, but not here), and how it was used everywhere, by everybody. But he went on, and I quote ... Big Ag has control of the USDA from the Secretary right on down to almost the lowest guys on the totem pole. What to do? Get a hold of your congress folks and get them to take some action ... get the money out, get control of the chemicals.
Dave Ellingson, another commercial beekeeper and beeswax processor talked about doing everything the way he had been doing things ... and nothing was working. It used to be, when a colony dies, you air it out and reuse it. Now, that new colony will die too. His pesticide comment was that farmers are now "stacking" pesticides. That is, they are combining insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in a single trip across the field instead of taking three separate trips. The problem? When combined, these chemical blends become a thousand times more toxic than when used alone. A thousand times more toxic. Imagine.
Gene Brandi, a commercial beekeeper with 2,000 colonies, talked about one specific pesticide problem: Spraying fungicides on blooming plants. Generally these compounds arent harmful to honey bees ... adult honey bees that is, which is all the EPA makes the chemical companies consider when they test new pesticides (remember who does the tests, and who approves the results). Meanwhile, these non-adult-harming compounds that are brought back to the hive are being fed to baby bees. Would you feed fungicides to your babies? No? Neither would I. But we are routinely letting honey bees do just that. These chemicals come back to hives on the pollen the bees collect, then store, then feed to their children. Yummmm.
Pesticides arent the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. Beekeepers and scientists know this. But the stress that constant exposure to pesticides exerts on the honey bee population, and the strain this stress puts on a honey bees immune system is just one of many links in the CCD chain. The problem is obvious. The solution is too.
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