photo by Jeremy Good (jmgmusic519 on Flickr CC)

We depend on honeybees to pollinate some 70 crops. Due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), honeybees, mainly in North America, are dying off at a shocking rate – 30% every year since 2006.

In the US, bee die-offs have qualified some beekeepers for disaster relief from the Department of Agriculture.

Though the exact cause, or causes, of CCD are murky – it has been attributed to parasites and satellite communication – the most obvious culprits are pesticides, specifically insecticides.

From the Guardian:

Of particular concern is a group of pesticides, chemically similar to nicotine, called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), and one in particular called clothianidin. Instead of being sprayed, neonics are
used to treat seeds, so that they’re absorbed by the plant’s vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today’s genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don’t like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.

The US EPA is apparently loath to regulate or ban the manufacture of pesticides, even those insecticides that have elicited strong warnings from scientists concerning their risk to honeybees.

The connection between pesticides and CCD would seem to put beekeepers at odds with growers, yet the fact is these industries depend on each other – and growers’ usage of pesticides may ultimately lead to their own failure.

Take the case of an Australian beekeeper Darren Thompson who lost some 80 hives containing 100,000 bees.

Thompson is quoted in Australia’s Sunday Mail:

The bees were actively foraging when the chemical was applied and the bees would have brought that back to the hive. As bees start grooming themselves back in the hive, the chemical can be spread from bee to bee. One affected bee can kill 10 bees. It has a domino effect. When you’ve been nursing bees throughout the year to build them up to full strength, well, it’s gut-wrenching.

Despite this, Thompson is reluctant to take legal action against the growers, whom he works closely with.

One bright light peeking out from the honeybee plight is the rise of amateur and urban beekeeping.

The Nebraska Radio Network reports that beekeeping is on the rise in the state. A $300 initial investment and a course in beekeeping are all you need to launch your own hobby or business, while at the same time contributing to local ecology, flower and food production.