September 18, 2014

Winter was rough on Iowa honeybee population

The Iowa Department of Agriculture’s bee specialist says the state is losing its honeybee population at twice the rate of the national average. Apiarist Andrew Joseph says annual winter losses among U.S. beekeepers run about 30 percent, but Iowa’s losses — due to the extreme cold — are likely to be 60 to 65 percent.

“Bees that are in good, strong shape can survive a very harsh winter, but bees that have been weakened by pesticides and parasites or that were underfed in the fall will struggle and they will likely not make it through to see spring,” Joseph said.

This winter, bees in Iowa hives were forced to eat more of the stored honey before they normally do and that led to a shortage of food late in the winter. “We can rebuild the lost colonies, we can replace those with what we call packaged colonies from warmer states — California, Georgia, Texas — but doing all that takes a lot of work and costs a lot of money,” Joseph said.

The lower numbers of honey bees could eventually drive up the cost of food that needs to be produced by pollinators, including many fruits and vegetables.