Honey bees are described as the most important species on earth pollinating 70 of the 100 crops that feed 90% of the world. And they’re in serious decline.
Figures seem to vary but the consensus is that EU loses 16-30% of the bee population year on year. It’s as bad in the US where 90% of feral (wild) colonies disappeared in the mid 80%’s. In the US, 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, the hive population decreased by 40.7%, which seems to be the average loss since 2006. Completely unsustainable.
And the reason – the Varroa mite, which has caused havoc across the EU, Canada, South America, NZ and AU. There are two other conditions that have appeared on the scene – that being “colony collapse” and “disappearing disease” (whatever they are) but the fact is, it’s the mite that invades hives and introduces a virus that kills the most bees. Note: people also point to chemical usage though nothing has been proven here. So that’s why feral hives have, in many instances, been all but wiped out in many regions, but with managed hives beekeepers can substantially protect against the Varroa mite.
In NZ the industry is being encouraged to grow driven by strong demand for manuka honey – as at June 2019 there was an increase of 37,000 hives (up 4%) to 918,000 on the year prior with an increase of 8% in beekeeping businesses. AU has 25,500 beekeepers and 670,000 hives – a hive holds 60-80,000 bees. Problem is, unlike NZ, the bee numbers in AU are decline, by 100,000 hives, or 20%, in one decade to 2016. Bees are estimated to contribute a massive $14.2bn to agriculture, so they’ve come up with a six-point plan, the Honey Bee and Pollination Program’s Strategic Plan (2020-2025), to ensure the growth and survival of the industry.
On these numbers this is probably one of the biggest immediate threat to agriculture worldwide but money will take care of it. Growers hire hives during pollination as you know and in the US, the cost per hive now ranges between $165 – $240 which has increased sharply in recent years. Some say it will cause an increase in fruit prices, but I reckon it’ll simply cause an increase in beekeepers, as it should.