Honeybees fared better than expected this past winter, but that doesn’t mean beekeepers are celebrating.
Losses of bee colonies were still higher than what beekeepers consider economically sustainable, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
Results of a national survey of about 7,200 beekeepers, released Thursday, showed 23.2 percent of managed honeybee colonies were lost over the winter, the USDA reported.
That’s better than the 30.5 percent loss reported the previous winter and the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent. But it’s still higher than the 18.9 percent loss beekeepers said they could afford to absorb, the USDA said.
Ohio’s losses appear to have been significantly worse than the national number. Although the state didn’t conduct a formal survey, information from county bee inspectors and beekeepers indicates 50 to 60 percent of colonies were lost over the winter, said Brett Gates, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Some of the losses in the state appear to have been related to the extreme cold, said Denise Ellsworth, who directs Ohio State University’s honeybee and native pollinator education program. In some cases, the cold apparently prevented the bees from moving and clustering around the honey in the hives, she said. Other hives weren’t able to produce enough honey to sustain the bees through the winter.
Jeff Pettis, a co-author of the natural survey, said the yearly fluctuations underscore how complex the issue of honeybee health has become. A host of factors are contributing to bee deaths, including diseases, parasites such as varroa mites, pesticide use and the loss of some of the plants that provide pollen, said Pettis, research leader of the Agricultural Research Service Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.