Here's an article from a local newspaper.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
Published June 10, 2005
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Beekeeper David Smith checks one of his hives Wednesday on his property near the Polk County line, east of Lithia. Smith said he has lost up to 30 percent of his bees to the varroa mite. Some experts predict critical shortages nationwide of pollinating bees over the next year, opening the possibility of higher food prices.
Beekeeper David Smith sits in the kitchen of his eastern Hillsborough home, leafing through a catalog of pesticides. When he gets to the page of chemicals to rid hives of varroa "vampire" mites, he just shakes his head.
He knows from experience nothing in the glossy book will adequately control his industry's worst and most tenacious foe.
"If you put that in, you're just wasting your money," he says of one.
Over the last year, American beekeepers have lost half their colonies - billions of honeybees - to a bloodsucking mite smaller than a grain of rice, a staggering loss never before seen, industry leaders say.
Scientists say the resilient mites, producing 10 generations of progeny a year, have developed a resistence to once-effective pesticides.
With bees pollinating crops as varied as cucumbers and watermelons and California almonds, the effect of honeybee losses is felt far beyond the hives in Smith's back yard. Smith said he has lost up to 30 percent of his bees.
Losses are estimated at 1.25-million hives nationally, each with up to 80,000 bees.
"People need to realize, you've got to have bees," said Smith, who lives near the Polk County line east of the small community of Lithia. "If the scientists don't come up with something to beat this, it's possible we won't have any bees at all. Then we're really in trouble. We'll get all our food overseas."
Without the bees to pollinate crops, yields can drop dramatically.
"Farmers have to have bees for pollinating," said Paul DiMare, president of DiMare Fresh Inc., a company that grows crops such as tomatoes and watermelons. "You can't do it by hand."
Industry leaders aren't predicting the demise of beekeeping or the third of crops that rely on pollinating bees.
But all agree the stakes are high. Unless a solution is found soon, some predict critical shortages of pollinating bees over the next year, leaving farmers scrambling and opening the possibility of higher food prices down the road.
Florida farmers haven't seen any losses because of a shortage of bees, according to the Florida Farm Bureau. Next year is anybody's guess.
"The worst-case scenario? A third of our crops will be gone," said Carolee Howe, assistant director of agriculture policy for the Florida Farm Bureau. "Our members know the importance of pollinators."
In California, almond growers faced a desperate situation this winter because of the shortage of pollinating bees. Almond farmers paid record prices to lease or buy colonies from other states, including thousands from Florida.
Indeed, the nation's largest beekeeper, Horace Bell of Deland, sold every colony he owned - more than 40,000 - to almond farmers, said Laurence Cutts, president of the Florida State Beekeepers Association. Bell could not be reached for comment.
Almond production was down 15 percent, though the California Almond Board says poor weather might have been partly to blame.
Some California farmers were paying up to $150 per hive to lure beekeepers to the state, says the Florida Farm Bureau. Traditional prices don't exceed $50.
With the losses from the mites and beekeepers headed west with their colonies, a shortage in Florida next year is all but a given, industry officials say.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Florida beekeepers maintained 205,000 colonies in 2004, with a value pegged at more than $20-million.
"People are going to be scrambling to get bees to pollinate their crops," Cutts said.
The varroa mite was introduced to the United States from Asia in 1987. Given the migratory nature of beekeepers, who often truck their hives long distances to follow crops, the mite quickly spread through the industry.
The varroa is an eight-legged mite that sucks the blood out of the bee. The mites also make bees much more susceptible to disease, and once colonies are weakened, other destructive predators move in, including a pest called the small-hive beetle.
Early pesticides were extremely effective at killing mites. "The first product that came out had a 97 percent control rate, which was wonderful," said Jerry Hayes, chief of the apiary section for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.
"It was that 3 percent that lived and reproduced that is the problem," he said.
Once they get a hold on a colony, losses quickly mount, beekeepers say.
"They're like a pack of wolves," said Brandon beekeeper Steve Grande. "They're very vicious."
Scientists are working on several fronts. Some have developed a fungus that is effective at killing the mites without harming the bees, though industry leaders say that remedy isn't cost-effective.
One of the best hopes may be bees that are resistant to the mite.
Tom Rinderer, a scientist with the USDA's agriculture research service, has found resistant bees in Russia. Rinderer said his bees can survive three to four times longer when infested with the varroa.
"It's not an immunity," the Baton Rouge, La., researcher said. "It's an advantage, not a perfect solution."
The resistant bees, Rinderer said, allow beekeepers to reduce their reliance on pesticides. By reducing pesticide applications, the mites would be less likely to develop the chemical resistence.
Ineffective pesticides could then become useful again, as long as beekeepers moderate usage, Rinderer said.
His Russian bees are available, though they haven't been widely accepted by beekeepers.
Smith, the beekeeper living near the Polk line, said he has combated the mite by splitting his hives once they become weakened, forming uninfested colonies. But the tactic is labor-intensive.
"There's nothing easy about this mite, that's for sure," he said.
Hayes, the Florida agriculture official, said the silver lining in the crisis is that people are reminded of the importance of bees to agriculture.
"Bees have always been the ugly stepsister of agriculture," he said. "They're needed, but they've always been in abundance, so everybody took them for granted. Now that we're losing them, nobody takes them for granted. All advertising is good."http://www.stpetetimes.com/2005/06/10/Business/Vampires_of_hives.shtml