Bees in State Avoid Sting of Disease, Parasites

Beehives in Oklahoma have not suffered widespread damage from disease or pests like much of the nation, said the president of the Oklahoma State Beekeepers Association.
Over the last four years, honeybees mysteriously went missing from their hives across the country. Beekeepers first noticed a problem when they found hives abandoned by the adult bees. All that was left was food and bee larvae, the young that develop inside the hive. The shrinking bee population threatened the pollination and survival of numerous commercial crops.
The malady was given the name, colony collapse disorder, or CCD.
“Much of the hives have escaped the disorder,” said Kenneth Hammond, OBA president. “Commercial beekeepers have been hardest hit, as they move their bees for crop pollination.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture does not keep records of the number of hives or beekeepers in the state; so much of the evidence of loss is anecdotal. The OBA is a volunteer association, so it is difficult to come up with any accurate figures of exactly how many hives are in the state.
There may be 25,000 to 30,000 colonies in the state.
“Most have anywhere from 1 to 20 hives,” Hammond said.
Jack Carson, Agriculture Department spokesman, has not seen in Oklahoma the damage other states have suffered.
“The state has not been impacted by that phenomenon like other states have,” he said. “California and Texas have had a far worse time with it than we have.”
However, some beekeepers have lost hives unexplainably, said Euvonne Harrison.
“It is a difference of opinion,” she said. “In the Tulsa area some keepers are finding an empty nest: Just the brood and food.”
Harrison and her husband Carl operate H&H Bee Supply, 109 W. 50th St. North.
The couple, which has worked with honey bees 25 years, are experienced and knowledgeable beekeepers. They are listed in the Who’s Who in North American beekeeping by the magazine Bee Culture. They started their business in 1993.
More than 2.4 million honey-producing colonies generated 155 million pounds of raw honey worth $161 million in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The states producing the most honey that year, the latest for which there are statistics, were in order: North Dakota, California and Florida.
The average price for domestically produced honey was $1.04 per pound in 2006, up 14 percent from 90 cents in 2005.
Bees produce about 4 million pounds of beeswax nationwide, worth $7 million, every year, reports the USDA.
Bees produce bee pollen, bee venom, royal jelly and other products. Bees pollinate more than 90 cultivated crops with an estimated value of $20 billion nationwide. The contribution from pollination affects every third bite of food consumed, according to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Web site.
Beehives in Oklahoma have escaped the malady because hobbyists and not commercial operations operate the majority of hives, Hammond said.
“We do not see the disorder hitting us,” he said.
Harrison agreed Oklahoma beekeepers have fared better because “we do not move our hives as much as in other states,” she said. “In several states right now they are moving their hives to California for the almond pollination — thousands of miles.”
This is swarming season, Hammond said. Up to half the population will leave to start a new hive. People notice it when they see a ball of bees.
The disappearance of bees can be attributed to environment, land management, parasites and pesticides, he said.
“There are a number of things but I believe pesticides is a leading cause,” Hammond said. “It is a combination of things but the pesticide situation and how much stress you put on them makes a difference.”
In large commercial operations, bees are often moved from one location to the next to maximize the coverage. Moving the hives puts a lot of stress on them.
Bees are critical to the success of a crop, he said.
An apple orchard, for example, produces a harvest that is 5 percent less without bees than with the bees. Bees pollinating an almonds orchard will add more than a ton of product per acre — 500 pounds compared with 3,000 pounds using bees.
At the same time the number of hives is cyclical. There are years colonies drop off.
“The difference now is that people are getting excited about it,” Hammond said.
Honey consumption in the U.S. is nearly 350 million pounds of which 200 million pounds are typically produced domestically. To meet demand, the U.S. imported about 150 million pounds of honey in 2007, primarily from China, Argentina and Vietnam. The total value of honey imported that year was over $154.9 million, the USDA said. ?

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