US honey bees have been dying by the tens of millions, with annual
death rates of about 30 percent. With fewer bees to pollinate fruits and
vegetables each year, ‘beemageddon’ may soon cause the collapse of the
agriculture industry.

Honey bees pollinate more than 100 US crops, including apples,
zucchinis, avocados and plums, that are worth more than $200
billion a year. Since 2006, about 10 million bee hives at an
average value of $200 each have been lost in what scientists call
the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), according to a new report by
the US Department of Agriculture.
There are currently about 2.5 million honey bee colonies in the
US, which is a drastic decrease from the 6 million that existed in
1947 and the 3 million that existed in 1990. Last winter alone, the
honey bee population declined by 31.1 percent, with some beekeepers
reporting losses of 90 to 100 percent. In the previous two winters,
beekeepers lost about 22 percent of their populations.
?Currently, the survivorship of honey bee colonies is too low
for us to be confident in our ability to meet the pollination
demands of US agricultural crops,?
the USDA report states.
California?s almond crop, which blooms toward the end of winter,
would suffer the most. About 80 percent of the global almond supply
comes from the Golden State?s orchards, and 70 percent of the
state?s crop is marketed overseas.
US beekeepers truck about 1.5 million out-of-state colonies to
the almond orchards each year, which depend on the insect?s
pollination. The colonies are tasked with pollinating about 760,000
acres of almond trees at the end of each winter. It takes 60
percent of all US bee colonies to pollinate the $4 billion
crop.
Zac Browning, a beekeeper, told NPR that the almond orchards
have become ?ground zero in commercial beekeeping? and that
many beekeepers drive over from their home base in the Midwest.
But with a bee shortage that gets worse every year, many of the
almond orchards will never be pollinated, which could eventually
cause a global almond shortage and economic consequences for the
US.
The USDA knows how the agriculture industry will be affected by
the large-scale bee die-offs, but does not know why exactly they
are dying in such numbers. The report cites ?multiple factors?
including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and
pesticide exposure?,
while also citing last summer?s drought as
a contributing factor.
?Undernourished or malnourished bees appear to be more
susceptible to pathogens, parasites, and other stressors, including
toxins,?
the USDA report states.
During CCDs, surviving adult bees abandon their hives, leaving
behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
?Bees across the country are not in as good a shape as last
year,?
Eric Mussen, a University of California bee specialist,
told the Christian Science Monitor. ?When you stress them far
enough, the bees just give in.?

After large-scale honey bee die-offs each winter, beekeepers try
to restore their populations in the summer. But with the
populations dropping so low, the economic ramifications are almost
unavoidable.
The European Commission suspects that neonicotinoids, a class of
insecticides chemically related to nicotine, might be responsible ?
at least partially ? for the die-offs and the CCDs. Honey bees have
also died off in unusually large numbers in Europe, prompting the
commission to impose a two-year ban on neonicotinoids last month to
give scientists time to review the chemicals? impact on bee
health.
But US officials have stated that they don?t have enough
evidence to ban neonicotinoids. And with a drastically decreasing
honey bee population, ?beemageddon? might be just around the
corner.
?We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away
from a pollination disaster,?
Jeff Pettis, the USDA?s bee
research leader, said in the report.