Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bee die-off threatening Oregon crops

01:47 PM PDT on Sunday, June 8, 2008

Associated Press

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University is seeking $250,000 in emergency state funding to find a reason and a solution for the unprecedented die-off of honey bees, a problem that threatens Oregon food crops worth more than $457 million.

Scientists at OSU say that if there aren't enough bees to pollinate crops such as blueberries, cherries, pears and speciality seeds, yields can drop by 25 to 100 percent in a single season.

Oregon beekeepers say there's no question there are fewer bees throughout the state and nation but that specifics and effects are hard to pin down.

Many, including agricultural experts at OSU, say the increased honey bee losses, lumped under the heading of Colony Collapse Disorder, began in 2006.

But Mark Johnson, vice president of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association, said, Its been a problem for eight or nine years.

"... Eight years ago, I lost 90 percent of my hives in a six-week period. Since then, I might lose 40 percent one year, 20 percent another. Winter is the worst time, every beekeeper holds his breath," the Portland area beekeeper said.

"Is it going to be a 10- to 20-percent die-off or a 70- to 80-percent die-off? And there's no way of telling who will be hit," he said.

"It rotates around, a lot like the flu. The result is farmers who need bees for pollination are having a tougher time finding them," he said.

Costs are rising for everyone starting with the beekeeper, who must pay $17.50 for a queen bee that used to cost $5.

Johnson said many researchers think low dosages of pesticides are weakening bees' immune systems.

Morris Ostrofsky, past president of the Lane County Beekeepers' Association, said the situation isn't as bad locally as it is nationally but it's getting worse nationwide.

The scariest thing, he said, is not knowing where its going to hit next, but what it is.

While bees are fewer, demand is up, Fall Creek beekeeper LeRoy Culley said.

Culley said large beekeepers who transport hives around the country have suffered the worst losses. The stresses involved with such moves may be a factor in bee losses, he said.

And cheap imported honey has result in fewer domestic bees, he said, as American beekeepers are driven out of business.

Oregon State Lane County Extension Agent Ross Penhallegon offers a low-tech remedy.

People who plant small wild areas on their property that offer food for bees during the winter report seeing increases in bees, he said.

"If 75 people a year plant a little area of lavender, or borage, something that provides the food (bees) need, the population will explode," he said.

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