Thoughts on Colony Collapse

Last week’s article in CNN Money provides a misleading view of the urgent agricultural crisis facing the globe.

The article provides a smattering of facts about Colony Collapse disorder, and minimizes them by saying that food prices have remained the same, and that crop yields have gone up. and everything’s going to be fine. Why? Because “beekeepers have been able to rejuvenate their hives each year.”

That’s true but misleading. Beeks are splitting hives as fast as possible, buying nucleus colonies and shelling out for packages (the prices of which have skyrocketed). Those new colonies however are a quick fix and doomed to fail. Can you say “housing bubble”?

The fact is that 75% of all the bee colonies in the nation are trucked to California to pollinate almonds early in the year. With hundreds of thousands more acres of almonds planned, what will that crop require? Answer: bees shipped in from Australia, China, and other countries. Bees are not a crop like tomatoes that comes up every year. They are living colonies that mature over generations and seasons. They self-select for certain traits given their habitat and geography. The use of them in a multinational business capacity is clearly destroying the system.

How the orchards get pollinated in China.

Food prices might not be responding to the pollinator crisis yet: they are getting plenty of subsidies from the Food Bill, for instance. Meanwhile, federal agencies are–this very week–considering the approval of a pesticide that is even more powerful than Roundup. All these efforts are taxing the production system–starting with the small pollinators–to the limit. In China, pear orchards are now pollinated by humans wielding cigarette butts tied to sticks. Our capacity for food production is not unlimited.

The real answer should be providing healthy diets for the bees, and keeping residential colonies on the orchards. Then the bees can make pollinating the crops part of a healthy lifecycle. It’s better for the crops and farmers too.

According to a study from the Ecological Society of America, “Canola growers who leave 30 percent of their fields wild, allowing weeds and native plants to grow untended near or interspersed among their crops attract more native pollinators, achieve considerably higher yields in canola seed, and as a result generate higher incomes than those who plant 100 percent of their fields with canola.

That’s something worth CNN Money’s attention, and that of the general public too. Things have to change.


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