PENN STATE Press Release
College of Agricultural Sciences
January 29, 2007
HONEY BEE DIE-OFF
ALARMS BEEKEEPERS, CROP GROWERS AND RESEARCHERS
Pa. -- An alarming die-off of honey bees has beekeepers fighting for
commercial survival and crop growers wondering whether bees will be
available to pollinate their crops this spring and summer.
scrambling to find answers to what's causing an affliction recently
named Colony Collapse Disorder, which has decimated commercial
beekeeping operations in Pennsylvania and across the country.
"During the last
three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial
beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the
eastern United States," says Maryann Frazier, apiculture extension
associate in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Since
the beginning of the year, beekeepers from all over the country have
been reporting unprecedented losses.
"This has become
a highly significant yet poorly understood problem that threatens
the pollination industry and the production of commercial honey in
the United States," she says. "Because the number of managed honey
bee colonies is less than half of what it was 25 years ago, states
such as Pennsylvania can ill afford these heavy losses."
A working group
of university faculty researchers, state regulatory officials,
cooperative extension educators and industry representatives is
working to identify the cause or causes of Colony Collapse Disorder
and to develop management strategies and recommendations for
beekeepers. Participating organizations include Penn State, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, the agriculture departments in
Pennsylvania and Florida, and Bee Alert Technology Inc., a
technology transfer company affiliated with the University of
has identified several likely factors that could be causing or
contributing to CCD," says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting state
apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "Among
them are mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic
disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning."
of dying colonies revealed a large number of disease organisms
present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit,
vanEngelsdorp explains. Ongoing case studies and surveys of
beekeepers experiencing CCD have found a few common management
factors, but no common environmental agents or chemicals have been
industry has been quick to respond to the crisis. The National Honey
Board has pledged $13,000 of emergency funding to the CCD working
group. Other organizations, such as the Florida State Beekeepers
Association, are working with their membership to commit additional
This latest loss
of colonies could seriously affect the production of several
important crops that rely on pollination services provided by
the state's $45 million apple crop -- the fourth largest in the
country -- is completely dependent on insects for pollination, and
90 percent of that pollination comes from honey bees," Frazier says.
"So the value of honey bee pollination to apples is about $40
In total, honey
bee pollination contributes about $55 million to the value of crops
in the state. Besides apples, crops that depend at least in part on
honey bee pollination include peaches, soybeans, pears, pumpkins,
cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.
Frazier says to
cope with a potential shortage of pollination services, growers
should plan well ahead. "If growers have an existing contract or
relationship with a beekeeper, they should contact that beekeeper as
soon as possible to ascertain if the colonies they are counting on
will be available," she advises. "If growers do not have an existing
arrangement with a beekeeper but are counting on the availability of
honey bees in spring, they should not delay but make contact with a
beekeeper and arrange for pollination services now.
beekeepers overwintering in the north many not know the status of
their colonies until they are able to make early spring
inspections," she adds. "This should occur in late February or early
March but is dependent on weather conditions. Regardless, there is
little doubt that honey bees are going to be in short supply this
spring and possibly into the summer."
A detailed, up-to-date report on
Colony Collapse Disorder can be found on the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture
Research and Extension Consortium Web site.