Bee loss affects Mich. crops

By Kristi Jourdan (Last updated: 08/28/09 6:30pm) A quarter of the nation’s 2.4 million honeybee colonies have been wiped out, and researchers are baffled in trying to figure out why they are vanishing.One MSU researcher said the availability of food could be jeopardized if the honeybee population continues to mysteriously decrease throughout the nation.

Bee expert Zachary Huang received a $64,000 grant to begin researching why honeybees are disappearing, but nothing can be done until the weather warms up.

“We cannot do anything unless we know what causes it,” he said. “We don’t know what causes it, so we don’t know how to prevent it. Without knowing the details, we basically are stuck.”

Pathogens, insecticides and fungus, among other things, could be responsible for the honeybees’ demise, Huang said.

“The worst case scenario, if all bees disappear from North America, is we’ll only be eating wheat, rice, corn and potatoes,” he said. “Most fruits and vegetables will be gone.

“It’s a disaster.”

Mike Hansen, from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, said the state receives $60 billion annually from agribusiness, which relies heavily on the bee population for cross-pollination to produce fruits and vegetables.

“Honeybees are responsible for pollinating 66 percent of the crops in Michigan such as pickles and blueberries,” he said. “They play a big role because they’re major crops. I think we’re going to have a pretty good population of bees at this time. I’m more worried about next year.”

Hansen said if the state’s beekeepers can’t rebuild their swarms during the next couple of years, future crops will be negatively impacted the most.

“Finding the common threads that are running through the colonies that are being lost is the most difficult,” he said. “Some researchers believe the stress put on bees from movement, viruses and parasites, eventually gets to the point where it’s too much. The stress related function of this is probably a large part as well, but it doesn’t give you a clear answer as to what the problem is.”

Trustee Don Nugent is the CEO of Graceland Fruit Cooperate Inc. and president of North American Fruit Trading Alliance Inc.

He said his farms rely heavily on honeybees to produce crops such as apples and cherries.

“Honeybees are quite critical to fruit and vegetable growers,” Nugent said. “Without that, the price of food goes up. Everything’s all tied together.”

One to two swarms of bees per acre is necessary to grow sufficient crops, Nugent added.

“The bee becomes even more important,” he said. “Apples require a lot more bees for cross-pollination, so do blueberries and pickles. Most of our crops require bees to assist production.”

Nugent said while bumblebees can be used, the population isn’t large enough to handle crop production.

“Our honeybee is our best bee,” he said. “We can harvest the honey as well, so they’re cheaper. Beekeepers get revenue from renting out their swarms of honeybees. There’s also revenue they get from the harvesting of the honey.

“Economically, the honeybee is the best and it helps produce good, healthy food.”

Originally Published: 05/17/07 12:00am

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