Disappearing bees growing problem for crops

By: Melissa Tune Email
By: Melissa Tune Email

May 22, 2007

AIKEN, S.C.---It's a major "buzz kill" for local farmers, and it's a problem facing crops nationwide: the mysterious disappearance of hundreds of thousands of honey bees.

Tonight Aiken beekeepers met to talk about that and other issues.

There is a bee shortage, and that's not good, because bee pollination is said to account for about one-third of all the US crops.

Local beekeepers in Aiken are hoping to spread the buzz around town about what you can do to help with the shortage.

"Most of our food stuff is pollinated by bees," said Robbie Byars of the Aiken County Beekeepers Association. "Albert Einstein was quoted as saying that if we lose the honeybees, the human race would fall within 4 years."

For Byars, beekeeping is a way of life. He's dedicated a lot of his time and energy to preserving the bee population and is very passionate about them.

Honeybees are the most important insect to the human food chain. They are the principle pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Byars has over 40 bee hives himself, but says there is a serious bee shortage nationwide and here in Augusta. After we suited up to get a closer look at the bees, Byars explained why they're so important, now more than ever.

"Even though it would affect our vegetables, it would affect a large amount of animal feed," he explained. "Now they have what's called Colony Collapse Disorder."

Colony Collapse Disorder is also known as Sudden Colony Death. It refers to the mysterious die-off of seemingly healthy honeybee colonies. It has been largely afflicting commercial and private beekeepers since late 2006.

"You go out to a hive one day and its populace bees working like they should, you go there the next day and the hive is empty, the bees are gone. There are no dead bees, they're just gone," Byars said. "Each bee in her lifetime will make 1/12 of a teaspoon (of honey) in her entire lifetime, and it takes over a million flowers to make one teaspoon of honey."

That's why Byars says it so important to be mindful and remember the importance of the bees. He says one thing we can do to help is be careful around bees.

"You're killing off the bees when you spray the flowers. You're killing the bees, which is what helps your flowers grow, which helps your seeds," he said. "If you see a bee, don't kill it, let it go unless there's a problem with small children. Leave it alone, let it go."

Byars says large bee losses are not unheard of or even uncommon. In fact, they have been reported numerous times in the past. But researchers have reason to believe they are dealing with something new, or at least something that is previously unidentified, that's causing this shortage.

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