How valuable are bees? In the UK, about £1.8bn a year, according to new research on the cost of hand-pollinating the many crops bees service for free. If that sounds a far-fetched scenario, consider two facts.
First, bees are in severe decline. Half the UK’s honey bees kept in managed hives have gone, wild honey bees are close to extinction and solitary bees are declining in more than half the place they have been studied.
Second, hand-pollination is already necessary in some places, such as pear orchards in China, and bees are routinely trucked around the US to compensate for the loss of their wild cousins.
The new figure comes from scientists at the Reading University and was released by Friends of the Earth to launch their new campaign, Bee Cause. Paul de Zylva, FoE nature campaigner, said: “Unless we halt the decline in British bees our farmers will have to rely on hand-pollination, sending food prices rocketing.”
So what’s the problem?
Posted on October 13, 2009.
Sydney Ross Singer
In case you haven’t heard the buzz, the honey bee in Hawaii is gravely threatened by a newly introduced parasite, the varroa mite, which can wipe out our bee population within a few years, and is spreading across the state.
The question is, should we save the honey bees, or is the mite doing us a favor?
If you ask residents, farmers, and beekeepers, the honey bee is a blessing in Hawaii. They provide delicious honey, they help pollinate all sorts of fruit trees and crops, and they are interesting creatures to raise as a hobby. For most people, our islands would surely be less sweet without honey bees.
On the other hand, if you ask some conservationists who only value “native” species and wish to eradicate introduced ones, the honey bee is an invasive species curse in Hawaii. They compete with native pollinators, and they pollinate alien plant species that are encroaching on native forests. For these people, conservation would best be served by the eradication of the honey bee.
Unfortunately, the Hawaii government holds both of these opinions. And this spells doom for the honey bee.
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.