In appealing for government assistance, the bee industry (and bee researchers) emphasize the “billions of dollars” in value that honey bees are worth to agriculture – that without subsidies, bee colony numbers will continue to decline, causing severe economic consequences for the production of many agricultural crops.
Certainly the bee industry is undergoing major problems, most notably from parasitic mites, but the “billions of dollars benefit to agriculture” argument should be abandoned. Here’s why:
Over the past 20 years, CA’s almond acreage has increased to the point where one million bee colonies are now required for February pollination (at the rate of two colonies per acre). Because almonds bloom in February and because bees are released from almond orchards by mid-March, the one million colonies coming out of almond orchards represent a pool of bees that can be transported to any area of the U.S. for crop pollination purposes – provided the growers of such crops are willing to pay for transportation and related costs.
Almond growers pay dearly for their bees – rental fees are up to $50/colony and rising as new acreage goes in. Almond pollinatlon has completely changed the face of the U.S. beekeeping industry – without almond pollination income, many US. beekeepers would be out of business. Indeed, some beekeepers are increasing their colony numbers solely to supply bees for CA’s increasing almond acreage.
In essence, CA’s almond industry is subsidizing the U.S. bee industry to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Any government subsidy would be dwarfed by the infusion of money that the bee industry has already received and continues to receive from the almond industry. Continue reading