Beekeepers Come to Expect Loss of Colonies

March 29, 2013

Many beekeepers have seen the number of their colonies plummet in the last few years. The mysterious colony collapse disorder is continuing to kill even more bees as some of the country's biggest beekeepers say it's slicing the number of their hives in half, according to the New York Times.

"It's mostly the big commercial beekeepers that are around industrial farming where there's lots of chemicals," said local beekeeper Bruce Wachtel.

Scientists have yet to determine a clear-cut cause of the problem, but the Times reports some beekeepers and researchers say neonicotinoids -- a group of pesticides -- are to blame.

Wachtel, who lives in Afton, has been a beekeeper for about two decades. Over the years, he has had to adjust his techniques to meet a changing environment. He says when he first picked up the hobby, it didn't take much effort to maintain a successful colony.

Like many others, expecting losses has become the norm this beekeeper. Wachtel doesn't attribute his honeybee deaths to colony collapse disorder, but says a pesky problem with mites has claimed some of his bees in recent years.

"I always sort of pat myself on the back now when it's only a 20 to 30 percent loss, and in years past, before we had this mite issue, it was sort of unusual to lose a colony," he said.

Of the eight colonies he has this year, he estimates only five or six will survive.

Two colonies call his mountain-view backyard home.

"I noticed one of them still looks like it's thriving and the other one is dead," he said.

After prying open the wooden box filled with hives, Wachtel found dead bees and an array of small hive beetles. He said the colony was weak to begin with but noted the beetles likely aided in their deaths.

Wachtel has a pretty good idea of what went wrong with his colonies, but many beekeepers who struggle with colony collapse disorder are still looking for answers. Its cause may still be a mystery, but the impact is certain.

We could see prices rise at the grocery stores, and not just for honey. The Agriculture Department reports about 25 percent of the food we eat relies on pollination. A lack of bees means fewer harvests, which could increase food prices.

While researchers work to determine the cause of the population collapse, Wachtel says he is sticking with his favorite hobby.

"It's so cool. I never get tired of trying to enlighten people about what's going on inside of a colony," he said. "It's really fascinating."

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