NEWS

Where are the honey bees?

Jessica Gaspar

Area beekeepers got a breath of fresh air this season — the honey bee population is up, despite record declines last year. But, that doesn’t mean they’re in the clear.

Jim Doan, of Hamlin, noticed an increase in his population this year. Honey bees were up across western New York as well.

“Instead of 90 percent, we lost 50 percent. That seemed to be overall for western New York,” Doan said.

While his bees are up this year, he said the industry itself is still weak.

“We’re losing infrastructure,” he said. “We’re losing people that raise queens for us. We’re having a more difficult time finding queens and packages than we did a year ago. There’s a real consolidation in the industry.”

One package is three pounds of bees with a queen bee.

“Those people have taken big losses just like the rest of us and are just getting out of the business,” he said.

The reasons for the losses are still unknown. Last year, Doan and Bob King, director of the Agriculture and Life Sciences Institute at Monroe Community College, thought pesticides, like Gaucho, played a hand in killing the bees. They still believe it may be linked to colony collapse disorder (CCD), which causes the bees to become disoriented, fly away from the hive and ultimately die. Pesticides like Gaucho, which has been banned from use in several countries including France and Germany, have similar effects.

But, Doan and King just aren’t sure what the problem is anymore.

“It’s probably a multitude of different things that are happening,” Doan said. “We do not know anymore about why the hives are dying than we did a year ago.”

The effect on the economy could be great, since bees contribute $14 billion in farm revenue to the national economy, King said. Locally, there are about 5,000 hives in Monroe County and seven beekeepers, according to King. Bee pollination is required on crops such as apples, pumpkins, sunflowers and cantaloupes.

Without honey bees to help pollinate, Monroe County would suffer a $2.5 million loss in apples, pumpkins, strawberries and squash, he added.

To help find the problem, King has teamed up with a student from Greece Athena High School to research CCD and bee kill off, since most of the research dates back 30 or so years.

Area businesses, like Dundee Brewing Company based out of Rochester, have also signed up to donate part of their profits to researching the plight of honey bees. Dundee uses natural honey for some of its beer, including its flagship brand Dundee Honey Brown.

This year, a portion of every Dundee beer sold will be donated to the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees. Doan is appreciative of efforts from companies like Dundee.

“We’re very happy for their contribution ... to try and solve this problem,” he said.

Contact Jessica Gaspar at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 323, or at jgaspar@messengerpostmedia.com.