Many farmers in Iowa and across the nation are concerned about some bugs this year, but in this case they’re missing. The absent insects are honeybees, and Iowa Department of Agriculture spokesman Caleb Hunter says their disappearance has been dubbed “Colony Collapse Disorder.”
From California to Pennsylvania, beekeepers are heading out to their hives and opening them up to find them empty. Hunter says they don’t even find dead bees inside: “All they see is an empty hive.” Hunter points out while it may not affect corn or soybeans, the growers of apples and many kinds of vegetables need bees to pollinate those crops.
His research seems to show the syndrome began a year and-a-half ago in Pennsylvania. Some places around the country are hardly affected at all, but in others it’s almost completely decimated their operations. Larry Boernsen is a beekeeper and industry spokesman for Iowa’s honey producers, and he doesn’t think there’s anything new about the problem with bees.
The problem is a much smaller bug, a tiny mite that feeds on eggs and larvae of the bees. He says it’s been a problem for years that beekeepers have struggled with, and the news only recently picked up on it.
Boernsen says there are products that beekeepers can use to fight the mites, but he says, “In a farming community most anybody can understand you use medications often enough, and whatever you’re using it against can become a bit immune to it.”
As for the chemical products used on Iowa’s large corn and soybean crops, he says people who keep and tend to the pollinating insects avoid putting them in harm’s way. A beekeeper generally puts hives in a place like a grove of trees where they won’t be spraying. He notes that they’re still “wild,” and fly a few miles from the hive, so “you can’t dictate that they’re not gonna be out there, workin’ the beans.”
Other theories for the “colony collapse disorder” striking some beehives range from stress to disease, new insecticides to the genetically-altered crops being planted in more fields. Iowa remains one of the states relatively unaffected by the problem.