Bee disorder still puzzles scientists
CCD may have devastating effect on crops
By Bill O’Brien
ACME — There’s still plenty of buzz in the agriculture industry about a mysterious malady that’s killed swarms of honeybees, but researchers haven’t yet pinned down a specific cause.
Scores of scientists from across the country continue to search for answers to the honeybee affliction known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, that has devastated bee colonies across the country over the past two years.
Zachary Huang, an entomologist from Michigan State University, spoke to local cherry and apple growers about CCD at this week’s Orchard and Vineyard Show at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa and said researchers remain baffled over the cause.
“There’s a lot of different theories, but no hard proof,” said Huang, among 60 researchers from around the country who are investigating CCD. “Most scientists now believe it can be a few factors combined … it’s not a single factor.”
Problems with CCD surfaced in fall 2006 when some beekeepers began to report losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives. Huang said symptoms have been recorded in 33 states, including Michigan.
The loss of honeybee populations potentially is devastating to the agricultural industry; honeybees help pollinate around 130 different crops, including cherries, apples and strawberries and add an estimated $15 billion per year to crop value in the U.S.
“It is a major concern,” said grower Tom Van Pelt of Overlook Orchards in Leelanau County. “We can’t operate fruit farms without healthy bees.”
Huang said researchers identified several factors that could contribute to declining bee populations, including tracheal and varroa mites, viruses and pesticide use in farms and orchards. Other factors may include lower-quality feed used for bee colonies, stress created by moving bees over long distances and a lack of genetic diversity in some bee colonies.
Scientists will continue to expand research in hopes of narrowing down a more specific cause of CCD, he said.
“We are casting a very broad net,” Huang said.
The short-term impact of CCD includes higher prices paid by farmers for healthy bee colonies. Growers reported paying between $40 and $60 per hive in the area last season, but aren’t sure what to expect this year. Huang said the cost for honeybees in some parts of the country is soaring because of CCD, including $130 to $175 per hive in California, where bees are essential for pollinating the state’s almond crop.
Gerald Johnson, a cherry and apple grower in Benzie County, said he paid $40 per hive last year but heard of other beekeepers charging significantly more.
“I hope they figure something out, because we can’t afford to lose them,” Johnson said.