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Trend of Fewer Bees in U.S. Continues

Honeybee colonies in the United States declined dramatically last year, and advocates say that's not sustainable for agriculture. (USDA)
Honeybee colonies in the United States declined dramatically last year, and advocates say that's not sustainable for agriculture. (USDA)
May 17, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - U.S. beekeepers have reported losing 44 percent of their colonies over the last year, according to a new annual report.

Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner for the group Friends of the Earth, says that's too high to be sustainable for agriculture. She blames the problem on climate change, loss of habitat and pesticides.

Finck-Haynes says earlier this year, Maryland became the first state to pass a bill to eliminate the consumer use of popular pesticides containing neonicotinoids, but a federal response is needed.

"We're seeing a lot of action at the local and state level to restrict the use of pesticides," says Finck-Haynes. "Hopefully, that will put some much needed pressure on EPA, the USDA and our members of Congress to take significant action."

Finck-Haynes says regulatory agencies are letting the pesticide industry pull the wool over their eyes instead of seeking solutions.

The report is a collaboration between the Bee Informed Partnership, the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Kentucky, most of the beekeepers are hobbyists, with less than 50 hives.

Rick Sutton, owner of Sutton Honey Farms in Lancaster, is the largest of the state's handful of commercial beekeepers. He's been raising bees for 39 years and thinks federal action would help, because pesticides are reducing what bees can eat.

"You get so much corn being planted now, places you never saw corn years ago," says Sutton. "That you have less diversification of plants, more of a monoculture, and that hasn't helped any."

Sutton says there is virtually no colony collapse in the eastern part of the state, where much of the land is forest.

Somerset's Ray Tucker, president of the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association, believes with government support small farmers in that region could create new business opportunities, by raising bees and then selling them on the commercial pollination market.

"Bees are as much a valuable product as honey, and raising queens, we have to go overseas to find pure wax to raise queens," explains Tucker. "We have healthy forests that could produce healthy bees."

He adds it also means income for a region hit hard by shifting economic times.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY