Is This A Total Collapse Of The Beekeeping Industry?

It’s been quite a struggle for Jim Doan, a New York State commercial beekeeper. He has been trying to revive his beekeeping business after having to sell his home due to the devastation his operation endured in 2013.  Jim received international attention for becoming one of the first known commercial beekeepers in America, to lose his family run operation due to neonicotinoid exposure earlier that year.

Jim Doan

Jim Doan

Although he has been going to extremes to keep the business going, things are not looking good for his operation. Jim was recently featured on The Neonicotinoid View, which is produced by The Organic View Radio Show is unique, weekly program that explores the impact of neonicotinoids on the environment.

JD: What we’re seeing is a total collapse of the bee industry down here {Florida}. People had nice looking bees back in October/November are going through them now and finding that those hives have shrunk from 15-16 frames of bees down to a mere 5 or 6 frames of bees. That’s very abnormal for Florida. Even in the last few years we haven’t seen such a dramatic decline in bee populations.

When push comes to shove, there is going to be a huge shortage of bees

Listen To The Interview

In this week’s segment of The Neonicotinoid View, host June Stoyer and Colorado beekeeper, Tom Theobald talk to commercial migratory beekeeper, Jim Doan about this year’s almond crop and whether or not there will be enough bees for pollination.

The Neonicotinoid View ” which is produced by The Organic View Radio Show is unique, weekly program that explores the impact of neonicotinoids on the environment. Tune in each week as June and Tom explore the latest research and news from the beekeeping community.

To listen to the interview, press the play button on the video below:

TT Do you have any suspicions as to what the cause is?

JD I do. It’s something we’ve been seeing all along. Beekeepers don’t realize this a lot of times but their bees are being affected by chemicals in August and early September. Those hives, be it neonics or other things that are taking out their field bees is causing that hive to shift their nursery into field bees.

Then what happens is that nursery when it shifts, those bees in the nursery would normally produce a lot of royal jelly that would be fed to all of the hatching brood that would be coming out. These are all of the young bees. Those bees are your winter bees that are actually born in September. So consequently, guys that are coming to Florida and from other places are coming with summer bees. Summer bees just don’t live the length of time that winter bees do because they don’t have that body fat, the carbohydrates that is required for them to live the 100-120 days. So, what we’re seeing is that because of what happened back in September, these are the ramifications. That’s why with a lot of these pesticides we’re complaining about they don’t kill bees immediately, it’s three – four months down the road, that’s when the hive collapses because the damage was done months ago.

That's why with a lot of these pesticides we're complaining about they don't kill bees immediately

JD Several researchers have pointed out that these hives just don’t have the winter bees that they need. You need winter bees even in the South just as you do in the North.

JS The almond crop is the biggest crop that commercial migratory beekeepers pollinate. Can you share with our listeners what it is like for you to prepare for this?

JD: First we have to grade all of our bees. They (the growers) require a certain amount of frames of bees in order for us to get paid. So, we count the amount of bees and the amount of brood.
This will help us determine, in a couple of weeks, where they hives are going to go.

The second thing we have to do is make sure the equipment is in good shape and that there are no ants. The almond growers do not have fire ants and other ants. So, we will raise up our pallets and clean them. We’re also checking for weight. You have to have 35-40lbs of honey in those hives or syrup to make sure that those hives have enough weight to withstand bad weather in California.

JS Is your operation primarily focused on pollination or honey production?

A lot of people don't realize how much money it takes to run a hive of bees
JD It is focused on pollination right now because the price of honey has dropped so dramatically. There seems to be a lot of imitation honey on the market. We’re seeing the prices drop to what we saw in the early 90’s. So, we have to focus on pollination. You need to make about $300-350 per hive to get through a year. A lot of people don’t realize how much money it takes to run a hive of bees.

The Plight Of The Beekeeper

TT How is the almond migration shaping up for Florida beekeepers?

JD It’s not going to be good. The beekeepers that I’ve spoken to down here are seeing poor quality bees because of the shrinkage we’ve seen throughout the season. The big beekeepers are seeing the same problems we’re seeing.

There is a company called Wonderful Bees which is owned by Paramount Farms. They need 100,000 hives of bees and have 75,000 hives down here. From what I’ve been told, they are only going to ship about 4,000 of them to California.

The rest are too weak to actually go out and do any good for them. When push comes to shove, there is going to be a huge shortage of bees.

JD Generally, most almond growers want 8 frames of bees minimum and they’re just not going to get them. So, either they’re going to have to accept the poor quality or they are not just going to get bees.

On top of that Paramount, the company I mentioned, has a standing order for 48,000 hives of bees in California that they have contracts for. They need those bees. When push comes to shove, there is going to be a huge shortage of bees.

David Hackenberg's beekeeping business went from 1700 hives down to 80

David Hackenberg went from 1700 hives down to 80. He won’t have anything to ship to California. In the past, he has shipped 2-3 loads of bees a year. The guy that I was going to buy bees from, he started the season out with 1800 and may have about 100 that are going to California. The rest are dead or might as well be dead. You are seeing this huge collapse of beehives and it’s just not sustainable. We’ve run out of reserves.

Beekeeping Border Patrol

JD I know what the almond growers are going to want. They are going to want to open the borders up either to Canada or to Australia to bring packages in. As a bee industry, we don’t want that. Australia has several other problems that we STILL don’t have. We certainly don’t want their problems.

On top of that, the Canadians only want to open the borders one way and that’s to let the Canadians in down here. Many of us would relish the idea of being able to go to Canada to put our bees in the woods. That’s the only wild area we’ve got left. At the rate that they are ripping up ground to plant more and more corn, it’s not sustainable to keep bees anyplace. Even here in Florida, they’re planting corn and growing it now.

JS What are some of the problems Australia has with bees that we don’t and vice versa.

JD They have a mite, another mite that we don’t have. They also have a couple of viruses that we don’t have yet and we don’t want. Because our bees have never had to deal with those particular viruses, it would decimate the bee population here.

Tracheal mites

We see that every time something new is brought in, you certainly see like tracheal mites. We saw a huge hit but then the bees bounced back after a few years. The bees become tolerant or in the case of tracheal mites they (the tracheal mites) simply disappeared because the bees that were most susceptible, died.

Even with Varroa, there’s lots of new queen lines that coming out that either mite resistant or mite tolerant or actually tear the legs off the mites and kill the mites. Varroa mites are the least of our problems. We treat maybe once a year and since we’ve started using the Ankle Biter line which was developed at Purdue, We don’t even see mites at all in those hives.

So, it comes back to the chemical companies saying mites are the problem, mites are the problem! Show me the mites and then maybe we’ll have a problem but I don’t have mites! Most of these beekeepers are doing a good job of either controlling the mites or not even having to worry about mites because mites are not the problem in their hives!

21 thoughts on “Is This A Total Collapse Of The Beekeeping Industry?

  1. If you kill all the residential pollinators then you need bees to fill the gap. Then a consirable portion of those get killed .(some feat considering the toughness of the honeybee superorganism) so what next?
    Perhaps some action to reduce the level of insect death in agriculture? It will take a major crop collapse to make legislators consider stopping doing the same old same old

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