Ohio beekeepers reportedly experienced hive losses this year averaging between 40 and 90 percent.
While the average annual rate of bee mortality may be better than what some experts expected, beekeepers are still looking for ways to increase numbers of honey bees reported to be dying-off.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, located in Ohio, approximately 7,200 beekeepers were surveyed, showing an estimated 23.2-percent of managed honeybee colonies were lost recently during the winter. These figures reflecting bee deaths were provided in a study conducted earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Numbers totaled during the last eight years averaged 29.6 percent. Unfortunately, beekeepers in the state of Ohio have reported being able to compensate for only an estimated 18.9-percent of the total calculated loss, according to statistics gathered by the USDA.
According to the results of this annual study, Ohio has suffered substantial rates of hive mortality in comparison to other states.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Public Information Officer Brett Gates estimates that 50 to 60-percent of colonies were lost as a result of the enduring, harsh winter. Because of the extreme cold, some honeybees were unable to move and cluster around the honey effectively. In other cases, the hives just weren’t able to produce enough honey to sustain the amount of nutrition needed to survive throughout the season.
What’s being done to improve hive survival?
Honeybees are an important staple of Ohio’s agriculture. According to the USDA, honeybees are relied upon each year to pollinate more than 70 crops, including apples, melons, cucumber squash, pumpkins and strawberries. This amounts to a total of $14 billion in harvested goods each year.
“They are very important to pollinating Ohio fruit trees,” said Ohio State University Entomology Professor Reed Johnson. “I know that there has been some concern among these growers if they will be able to get enough bees to meet their needs this year.”
According to Johnson, “It’s the cold that kills them, but it is the other things like insecticides, mites and diseases that have weakened them (honeybees).”
“In a milder winter more may have survived,” he added.
David Crawford has been a beekeeper in Ohio for approximately 30 years.
“I feel bad for anyone who has orchards this spring,” he said. “A lot of beekeepers they had contracted with to bring in hives for pollination didn’t have those hives because of the winter. Instead of maybe bringing in 20 hives all they could bring in were 10. And those 10 hives may not have been a full-strength.”
When approached with the difficult task of devising solutions, Tim Arheit, president of the State Beekeeping Association, noted options as being limited. He suggested only two tangible ways to increase hive numbers: buy more bees; or encourage growth from the current stock by dividing numbers and dispersing healthy bees among colonies with an established queen.
According to Arheit, buying more honeybees to replace dying bees can be costly. Beekeepers can also encourage their bees to reestablish themselves within empty hives by separating a selection of bees from one nest and moving them to the other.
“If you split your hives,” said Arheit, “you reduce the number of bees in each of the hives. And honey production depends on a very high population of bees in the hives. So you’re going to reduce the amount each hive collects.”