Industrial Agriculture, Commercial Bee Hives and Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

Bees and their pollinating skills are said to facilitate the production of more than $15 billion in U.S. crops. Bee colony collapse disorder, a disease of unknown origin and pathology, is causing the death or disappearance of millions of honeybees, leaving researchers scrambling to find the cause.

| October/November 2008

New research has shown that bee colony collapse disorder seems to target commercial colonies, overstressed by the demands of the industrial agriculture system and possibly related to the use of pesticides. Attention backyard beekeepers: Tell us if you’ve been affected.

New research has shown that bee colony collapse disorder seems to target commercial colonies, overstressed by the demands of the industrial agriculture system and possibly related to the use of pesticides. Attention backyard beekeepers: Tell us if you’ve been affected.

Photo by Istockphoto/Olga Brovina

Are there ties between industrial agriculture, commercial bee hives and bee colony collapse disorder?

Industrial Agriculture, Commercial Bee Hives and Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

The future of America’s food supply relies on a species that’s under stress. Beginning in the winter of 2006, millions of honeybees started dying or vanishing. A strange epidemic, colony collapse disorder (CCD), is wiping out these vital pollinators and causing concerns for the fate of our food supply.

Chip Taylor, professor of insect ecology at the University of Kansas, and other experts say multiple forces are responsible for colony collapse disorder, including weakened immunity, pesticides, parasites and poor nutrition. Some research implicates a virus known as Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. The good news is that the disorder does not appear to be as severe in backyard beehives, which are not stressed in the same way commercial hives are. The industrial agriculture system ships bee colonies around the country to serve various monocrops and growing seasons, which stresses the bees.

Because the tiny workhorses are responsible for pollinating one-third of U.S. crop species, honeybees account for many of the fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fibers produced in the United States, with the value of their services exceeding $15 billion.

Silence of the Bees, a PBS Nature series episode, reveals the agricultural role of these amazing six-legged creatures. The episode also includes an interview with expert Dennis van Engelsdorp.

Because 71 percent of all colony deaths can be attributed to non-CCD causes, according to van Engelsdorp,  the stinging issue is general pollinator health. “The effort to look at the impacts of pesticides has revealed a surprisingly large number of pesticides in pollen, wax and the bees themselves; some of these at high levels,” van Engelsdorp says. “These pesticides are used in agriculture and sometimes by the beekeepers themselves. We have initiated investigations into the effects of pesticides, potential synergistic effects of multiple pesticides, the impact of pesticides in combination with other stress factors, as well as the use of irradiation to mitigate pesticide residues.”

11/20/2008 5:48:57 PM

I was enlightened by your bee colony article and would like to add a comment. Last Summer my son Andy was sitting out on our patio with his lap top and he noticed that while he was engaged in using his computor there were masses of bees (we have alot of flora in our landscape) flying in a disoriented manner. Could it be that our current electronic age may be interferring with homing instincts in colonies...just curious? We as citzens of the world need to wake up and protect the bee population...when the bees are extinct...we are extinct......TWalker

karen wassmer
11/18/2008 2:21:11 PM

I am a beekeeper in Florida and I have found a way to help save the honeybees from dying off because of Varroa Mites. Here is one new article wrote about my invention and a link to my website for more detail information on how I am saving the bees. Sincerely, Karen Wassmer

bee babe of mathews county, va
10/9/2008 8:08:37 AM

I am so glad to find this site and be able to communicate with other beekeepers. I have been keeping bees for 5 years in the most natural way possible. I lost my first two hives when I placed them under the pines on my property. The next year I placed them in the deciduous tree line of our property, where they got shade in the summer and sun in the winter, and they have thrived. I furnish them fresh water and dry, clean conditions. I have 4 healthy hives, and get calls when anyone in the county is bothered with a swarm which I usually catch. A few years ago I painted my hives different, green, yellow and pink. 3 of the hives are really sweet...the only mean one is the pink hive. My husband says they are mad because I painted them pink! Ha! They do make the most honey though....I sell my honey as fast as I can extract it. My favorite thing is to sit really still and close and watch the activity of my beautiful bees. Really nice to meet ya'll....keep in touch.

10/4/2008 8:04:39 AM

I just completed my 5 year of beekeeping and for the past 2 years I have had a huge supply of honey produced by my bees. The first three years however, were full of heartbreak and frustration. Each year I lost 100% of my colonies. They absconded each of those 3 years and it occured to me that perhaps I had placed the colonies in the wrong location. I had placed the hives on a South facing hill shielded from the North winds. But apparently I had them too close to a swampy area which produced too much moisture for them. Last year during the "bee die off" I managed to capture 2 swarms from my hives and this year I caught 4 swarms all from my colonies. I use zero chemicals or antibiotics and so far my hives have been most blessed to thrive and produce some of the finest honey any where around my little world in Ga. I have had numerous people suggest I enter the honey competitions around the area. One friend who happens to be a coporate lawyer asked if he could take some of my honey and enter it in his home town. The news I got back from him was more than a little uplifting. My honey won in every catagory and the President of the local Beekeeper's association said that it was, hands down, the best he had ever tasted. Certainally I have ups and downs with the bees, and this year late in the season, I lost two of my weakest hives to wax moths and ants. But that was my fault all the way. I had not paid as close attention as I should have for start up hives. My remaining hives however are doing great and I could actually pull a third run of honey from them but I had rather leave the excess for them to insure they have plenty of food stores to survive the winter. These little six legged creatures have brought me much joy and food and I can oft be seen talking to and intermingling with my bees. Around home I am known as the Bee Whisperer.

10/2/2008 1:40:21 PM

We live in Southern Oregon and have relied on a native honey bee hive that has existed for decades in a 'witness tree' over 150 years old to pollinate our crops. Last year, we saw the bees collecting pollen from the ivy that grows on trees around our house, but to our distress we saw many bees crawling around on the ground. These bees were unable to fly because a portion of their wings had literally snapped off, as if they were too brittle to handle the stress of flight. So the bees flew out of the hive, lost part of their wings, then they would crawl around and 'disappear' under gravel or in the grass. This year, no bees live in the witness tree. A nearby winery that also has an apiary has not lost their bees. The loss of part of their wings is a clue, but I don't have the answer as to what caused this.

10/1/2008 2:35:29 PM

One of our local beekeepers placed 25 hives near fields of genetically modified maize. He wasn't aware of this at the time. He is a very experienced keeper and looks after his bees well (no long journeys for pollination etc) but for the first time in his experience he lost most of those 25 hives. Maybe the time has come to look seriously at the damage GMO is doing to our environment before it is too late.

david owen
9/26/2008 10:31:54 AM

I am a hobby beekeeper with 4 hives and have not had any trouble yet except for a few small hive beetles. For over 3000yrs of combined experience in beekeeping check out and join the forum.

greg t.
9/24/2008 7:51:17 AM

I'm in my first year keeping bees, and have a friend with a number of years of experience. It's been amazingly enlightening to see the successes and failures of these industrious and adaptive working ladies. In a wide variety of scenarios, they can flourish. I have one hive that will likely produce upwards of 100 pounds of surplus honey this year, and we removed a nuisance hive from a home last week with 12 layers of comb. Alternately, upwards of 60% of my friend's hives just didn't make it through the winter last year, either through damage to hives, moisture, or simply starving to death mere inches from full comb. (They are after all, limited in reasoning. . . being . . .well. . .bugs) My friend and I have spoken at length about methods of keeping our colonies healthy, and both believe that a lack of chemicals yields more good than potential harm. We also embrace wild-caught swarms and genetic lines, which are difficult for commercial producers to work with, given the uncertainty of their temperament, resistance to drugs and such. In our view, wild swarms have already proven a degree of success in our environment, and are acclimated to the local area. If you have never kept bees, it can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby, I highly suggest giving it a try!

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