Bees, Bees, Bees

Most of us would agree this winter has lasted way too long – and if you’re a farmer, you’re happy that winter may kill a few insects that typically cause problems. But those same farmers are concerned for the health of honeybees, whose health may have been compromised by the long winter.

Along with crop prices and trends, honeybee health was the topic at the recent Commodity Classic held in San Antonio, Texas. Honeybee health is so important that Bayer CropScience launched its own Bayer Bee Care Tour, stopping in San Antonio to talk to farmers at the meeting about the ongoing issue of honeybee losses.

Honeybees are critical to the pollination of crops. In Illinois, they pollinate a third of all food-producing plants. The state Agriculture Department registers more than 2,500 active beekeepers, which currently manage more than 24,000 colonies.  Those colonies are increasingly important as the number of wild honeybees has declined due to pests and diseases, and this year’s tough winter. The decline has increased the need for domestic apiaries. Many specialty crop growers now hire beekeepers to pollinate their crops.

Typically, beekeepers in the northern part of the United States rely on packaged bees for spring replacements, according to Becky Langer with Bayer CropScience. But this year’s unseasonably cold weather could impact winter survival of bees throughout the U.S.

Last year, the concern about honeybee losses prompted Bayer to open a Bee Care Center in North Carolina to research honeybee health and to educate the public about the importance of honeybees. In addition, The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in February it will provide up to $3 million through the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the promotion of bee health and conservation in the Midwest. USDA selected the Midwest to promote bee health and conservation because about 65 percent of the country’s commercially managed bees reside in the Midwest from June through September. The funding is a focused investment to improve pollinator health and will be targeted in five Midwestern states —  Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

“Honey bee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet. The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Expanded support for research, combined with USDA’s other efforts to improve honey bee health, should help America’s beekeepers combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year.”

Funding will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment. Recent studies have shown that beekeepers are losing approximately 30 percent of their honey bee colonies each year, up from historical norms of 10 to 15 percent overwintering losses experienced prior to 2006.

This assistance will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.

Here’s some facts you may not have known about honeybees:

  • A honeybee must visit 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey.
  • Bees are required to make a total flight path equivalent to 3 orbits around the earth to make 1 pound of honey.
  • The average worker bee lives for only 6 weeks during the summer and makes one-half teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
  • During the summer, one normal colony of bees contains 1 queen, 300 drones (male bees), and 50,000 workers (female bees).
  • Bees use honey for flight fuel. They obtain approximately 7 million miles per gallon of honey.
  • A bee flies at 15 mph.
  • Bees have 5 eyes and 4 wings.
  • The value of honeybee pollination to U.S. agriculture is approximately $14.6 billion.
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About the author

Charlyn Fargo spent 27 years at the State Journal-Register covering agriculture, business and food. She currently is the Bureau Chief of County Fairs & Horse Racing with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. She is also a Registered Dietitian and writes a weekly syndicated nutrition column for Creator’s News Service ( and is co-owner of Simply Fair, a fair trade boutique at 2357 W. Monroe in Springfield. She has bachelor’s degrees in agricultural communications and food from the University of Illinois, Champaign and a master’s degree in nutrition from Eastern Illinois University. She and her husband, Brad Ware, have a daughter, Kate, and son, Jayden. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys baking cookies for Simply From Scratch, a company she formed to support faith-based ministries.

View all articles by Charlyn Fargo

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