Survey: Keepers Experience Lowest Winter Honeybee Losses In More Than A Decade
More Work To Do According To Adee Honey Farms: 'We're still losing six-fold higher that what was our baseline for decades."
For nearly two decades, the Honeybee population across the nation has been on the decline. However, there is some positive buzz among beekeepers as they experienced their lowest losses this past winter in more than a decade. But as KDLT’s Jill Johnson explains, they’re not exactly celebrating.
“Some people don’t like Dandelions, but I think they’re the coolest plant. The bees get a little nectar out of it. Right now, he’s sucking up nectar, and they’ll gather pollen on their back legs,” said Adee Honey Farms Co-owner Bret Adee.
Adee began following his father around Adee Honey Farms near Bruce, South Dakota when he was a 3 or 4-years-old. That’s why he’s not the one wearing the head gear. But even Adee says he’s been stung more times than he can count.
Adee said laughing, “Bees can sense fear just like a dog can so the more confident you become around the bees, the less fearful you are, and the less the bees bother you.”
While some may not like them, they’re vital to food production. Searching for nectar to convert to honey, they pollinate the plants that feed us.
Adee said, “What’s really interesting is soybeans even going up in yield. I’ve read study after study that show between 15 and 30 (percent) gain by having bees in the landscape next to soybean.”
But Adee says the Honeybee population has been declining because of the way farming has changed. He says less forage and more herbicide use along with a parasitic mite have all played a role.
“A bee hive used to last three years, now the average bee hive in the nation lasts six months, and if beekeepers weren’t continually raising queens and putting in new queens the bee supply would collapse,” said Adee.
Winter is when colonies experience the greatest collapse. According to a recent survey done by the ‘Bee Informed Partnership’, beekeepers lost an average of 21 percent of their colonies compared to 27 percent the winter before. Adee had half the winter loss than normal. He says others were excited that they had an 18 to 20 percent loss compared to around 24 to 25 percent depending on the year.
The survey says the ten year average loss for winter is 28.4 percent.
Adees said, “I wish we could take credit for better bee numbers as a management issue, but a lot of it was weather.”
Like many keepers, the Adee’s transport their bees to the west coast every winter. Adee says California had twice as much rain than usual, leaving the desert full of wildflowers.
“Historically we used to lose three percent. If our losses were over five percent we thought we had a management problem so we’re still losing six-fold higher that what was our baseline for decades,” Adee said.
While they had a good winter, he says they still have work to do.
“We have to do what the bees used to do naturally to maintain the numbers,” said Adee.
Adee says the honey bee population would likely do better if there were more conservation acres. He says giving the land a rest could also help farmers by improving soil health.