Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
The Almighty Buck

Journal dexterpexter's Journal: A little-known crisis 1

Another Dexterpexter Friendly Reminder (TM) before trying to journal again like a normal human being...

There is a crisis developing--a problem that most people probably haven't heard much about. See if you can determine what these things have in common:

The United States is a leading producer of apples, second only to China, and nearly 60% of all apples sold commercially in the United States comes from Washington state. At least 55 million tones of apples were grown worldwide in 2005, collectively valued at about $10 billion.

The U.S. is the third largest producer of cotton, and is the number one exporter. Cotton is a $4.9 billion dollar money-maker. In fact, cotton could be considered a literal money-maker, as it is employed in the production of banknotes due to its survivability over pulp-based paper.

The world peach production is about 10 million tons, second only after the apple. The Georgia peach industry was valued in 2001 at $35 million. South Carolina's peach industry is estimated at between $30-40 million, and has a $100 million annual economic impact according to Southeast Farm Press.

The cranberry represents a major commercial crop for Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine, Washington, and Wisconsin, and many provinces of Canada.

According to the National Honey Board, over 174 million pounds of honey, valued at over $157 million, were produced in the United States in 2005. North Dakota led honey production with $27 million of product. California followed with $25 million, South Dakota with $13 million, Florida with $12 million, and Minnesota with $7 million.

So, what do these things have in common? It is Honeybees--that's right, honeybees. Confused? Bear with me for a moment.

Commercial pollination services utilize Apis mellifera, or the Western Honey Bee, to pollinate crops such as apples, peaches, cotton, and cranberries. The USDA has estimated that 80% of insect crop pollination is attributable to honeybees, which pollinate millions of acres of U.S. crops every year. According to a 1999 Cornell University study, honey bee pollination contributes $14.6 billion annually to U.S. agriculture alone.
According to the National Honey Board, just to pollinate California's approximately 420,000 bearing acres of almonds--just almonds--it takes an estimated 900,000 to one million colonies of honey bees. That's a lot of bees!

Bees obviously play a very important part in agriculture, and have a significant impact on worldwide economies. So why is this important enough for me to journal about? Bee populations, both commercial and feral, aren't doing so well. Their populations are plummeting, and that stands to affect the worldwide economy. This isn't meant to be alarmist as the effects won't be seen overnight, but this is an issue of which more people should be aware

Reduction in the worldwide honey bee population is a bit of a mystery, but some theories as to why they're disappearing in such numbers include: pesticides, mite infestations, viruses, and displacement.

You see, honey bees are extremely susceptible to the chemicals used in pesticides (which are used to protect the crops against non-beneficial insect populations), and will distribute contaminated pollen throughout the colony. Also, poisoned worker bees will sometimes die before returning to the hives, thus leaving the colony to starve.
Mite infestations have also presented a unique problem. A type of mite which lays its eggs in the airways of the honey bee was blamed for the near-depletion of the honeybee in British Isles. In the 1990s, honeybee populations were further devastated by an infestation of the Varroa Mite, which has been implicated with causing the Deformed Wing Virus, a deadly RNA virus.
In 2006 and 2007, Colony Collapse Disorder (which may be caused by the mites and virus but is still mostly unexplained) ravaged honeybees worldwide as the worker bees in many honeybee colonies disappeared without explanation.
Isolated bee populations, to a lesser extent, have died as a result of native flora which is being displaced (for example: there is a type of orchid in Brazil which produces a scent that is used by male bees to attract female bees. Without the orchid, the bees will fail to effectively mate. With handicapped populations, pollination of the fruit of Brazil nut trees will be limited, causing a notable shortage of Brazil nuts. These are used to produce artist paints and lubricant for clocks.)
Non-native insect populations create food competitions, and could also create displacement of the western honey bee.

Honey bees do much more than simply pollinate our landscaping flora and pollinate our fruits. Among other things, they can pollinate:

Cofea Arabica, better known to you as your morning cup of coffee and a major money-generator in South America.
Flax, which is used to make linens.
Sunflowers, which also produce latex, which can subsequently used to make latex gloves.
Clover, which is used to resurrect depleted farm land, feed livestock, and generate honey.
Buckwheat, which is a promising treatment for Type-II diabetes, and has become increasingly popular for celiac-stricken people who enjoy bread and beer but can't process the gluten.
Canola, commercially produced in North Dakota not only for cooking oil, but also as a promising component of biodiesel fuel.
Hazelnuts, which are imported by Australia to the tune of 2000 tonnes annually and is a very important ingredient for both the Australian Cadbury company and the Italian company Nutella.
Grapes, used in the production of wines.
Shea Butter, which is the moisturizer often found in your lotions and conditioners.
Sanfoin and alfalfa, which is used as a forage crop to fee cattle and other livestock.
Not to mention cilantro/coriander, pepper, onions, shea butter, cherry, all spice, avocado (a major cash crop for California), cucumbers, soybeas/soya beans, sesame...the list goes on.

Besides just being helpful in pollinating the above and any other flower-producing plant, honey bees are considered absolutely essential for the production of vanilla and for the production of cocoa. They are also considered essential for pollination of squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and zucchinis. One to two colonies of bees are usually required per acre of produce.

So, here is my plea:
If you aren't allergic to bee venom, please consider bee-friendly landscaping (be careful not to plant invasive flora, though) when you plant next year, and don't pull out the death-spray when a Western/European honeybee wanders near. If you live on a farm or have lots of land, you might also consider encouraging bees by placing objects for the bees to nest inside of.

Honeybees generally are not aggressive, with exception of the Africanized Honeybee which tends to be more defensive of its colony. As Africanized Bees supposedly make pollination management more difficult (they tend to uproot and leave without much notice) and because they are indeed more collectively-defensive of their colony, they should not be encouraged. If your children run barefooted in the clover in your yard, they may step on and get stung by an unsuspecting honey bee; usually, though, when a person is stung by an "aggressive" bee, they misidentify the honeybee as the culprit when they've actually disturbed a yellow-jacket (which isn't a bee at all--it's a type of wasp), a hornet, or a "sweat bee."

The Western honeybee is a very beneficial insect, and is pretty important to our economy, despite working behind the scenes.

Source: Pretty much every wikipedia article that has anything to do with honeybees or agricultural products.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A little-known crisis

Comments Filter:
  • I used to keep bees when I was in college. It has been very disturbing to see the populations of them dwindle. Between the mites and the disease, we had to give them up after we lost all the hives in 2 years.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"