Jul 28, 2015
‘Number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006’

Honeybees have been all over the news in recent years, and the news hasn’t been good. Report after report has been released documenting colony declines.

But Christopher Ingraham, a journalist for The Washington Post, has painted a different honeybee picture. He says that it’s time to call off the “bee-pocalypse:”

The math says that if you lose 30 percent of your bee colonies every year for a few years, you rapidly end up with close to 0 colonies left. But get a load of this data on the number of active bee colonies in the U.S. since 1987. Pay particular attention to the period after 2006, when CCD was first documented.

As you can see, the number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA. The 2014 numbers, which came out earlier this year, show that the number of managed colonies — that is, commercial honey-producing bee colonies managed by human beekeepers — is now the highest it's been in 20 years.

So if CCD is wiping out close to a third of all honeybee colonies a year, how are their numbers rising? One word: Beekeepers.

A 2012 working paper by Randal R. Tucker and Walter N. Thurman, a pair of agricultural economists, explains that seasonal die-offs have always been a part of beekeeping: they report that before CCD, American beekeepers would typically lose 14 percent of their colonies a year, on average.

So beekeepers have devised two main ways to replenish their stock. The first method involves splitting one healthy colony into two separate colonies: put half the bees into a new beehive, order them a new queen online (retail price: $25 or so), and voila: two healthy hives.

“It’s not the honeybees that are in danger of going extinct,” Kim Kaplan, a researcher with USDA, told Ingraham via email. “It is the beekeepers providing pollination services because of the growing economic and management pressures.”




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