Where are the honeybees going? They are vanishing and according to Barry Conrad with the Central Ohio Beekeepers Association (COBA), that means big trouble for us.
Conrad said Ohio has lost 25 percent of the honeybee population over the winter.
"About one third of what we eat depends on the honeybee population," said Conrad. "Some say, if they die, so will we. That may be an exaggeration but it will certainly affect us."
Honeybees are known as honey producers but they also play a vital role in Ohio agriculture through pollination. According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate crops such as apples, cucumbers, blueberries, melons and pumpkins along with seed crops including sunflowers and canola. Worldwide about $15 billion in fruits, nuts and vegetables are at risk.
Scientists believe the phenomenon, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is mostly responsible. This is where the bees simply abandon their hives and vanish. Conrad said experts still do not know what is causing CCD but they are studying. Some experts believe the honeybees could be sick from pesticide exposure or a new virus targeting the bee’s immune system. Inadequate food supply may also be a factor.
"This is on the verge of becoming very serious," said Conrad. "I hope someone finds the answers soon."
Reports of CCD began in 2006. It has affected beekeepers and farmers. Colony decline and high honey prices have forced some beekeepers to resort to honey production rather than crop pollination.
"Most of all the fruits and vegetable we eat are dependent on the honeybees. They are the only thing that can pollinate them," Conrad noted.
Conrad also said that milk production might suffer from the drop in honeybee population because cows eat the pollinated foods.
About the honeybee
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the honeybee lives in colonies made up of a queen, drones and workers. The queen mates with the drones and produces all the eggs in the colony.
They can live anywhere around flowering plants and trees. The buzzing sound they make is actually their wings stroking 11,400 times per minute.
Population decline is a worldwide problem, but in central Ohio, the numbers are improving. According to Conrad, the United States has lost about 50 percent of its honeybee population. In 2006, Ohio lost 50 percent, but this year, the state is down 25 percent.
"We are building up pretty good now but it’s important that they thrive," said Conrad.
In April, Franklin County Commissioners adopted the Buzzzz Scholarship program. They awarded 15 $500 scholarships to county residents who successfully completed COBA’s beginning beekeeping program. The scholarship was designed to stimulate economic development and promote careers in apiculture.
"Bees play an important ecological role, but beehives have been collapsing at an alarming rate," said Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy. "Hives maintained by hobbyists can help maintain healthier bee populations."
Commissioner Paula Brooks added, "Tiny little bees are the heart of the food chain, and since food and its related sectors serve as the largest employer in Franklin County, this is a creature we cannot afford to lose."
How to help
The county and COBA are encouraging residents to become beekeepers. For those who do not want to be a beekeeper, but would like to help, Conrad said one way is to buy local honey.
Residents could also make yards or gardens more appealing to bees. Planting different kinds of plants varying in color and shape can attract bees. Experts also warn people to be cautious when using pesticides. They recommend using natural pesticides or spray at night when the bees are not active.
COBA is a non-profit organization formed in 1975 to encourage interest in apiculture and related industries. Its beginner beekeeping school begins in March. For additional information on COBA, log onto centralohiobeekeepers.com.