Agrilife: Bees and Food Production

As I wrote this segment, temperatures in Hopkins County are steadily maintained in the upper 90’s. Our landscapes and agricultural fields suffer the consequences of high temperatures. Wild flowers and late summer crops in gardens are producing their last crop for the season. Insects and pollinators are working intensively. When referring to honey bees, Dr. Mike Merchant, extension urban entomologist with Texas A&M AgriLife wrote: What could present a more peaceful, bucolic image than the scene of beekeepers tending their bee hives?

Beekeepers are traditionally seen as the gentlest of agriculturalists, not killing for food but merely reaping the labor of an industrious insect in exchange for nurture and protection.  Yet there is little peaceful about the verbal and political battle swirling about beekeepers and honey bees at the moment. You may have seen the headlines in recent years proclaiming the doom of the honey bee.  The domestic bee industry in the U.S. and in other countries around the world was hit hard in 2006 with puzzling bee and colony losses, since referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  In a typical year beekeepers expect to lose 10-15% of their colonies to disease and various stresses.

Since CCD arrived, colony losses have averaged 30% each winter, a significant increase.  Despite dire headlines warning of the doom of agriculture, according to one 2012 report, the costs of CCD to consumers so far seem to be minimal and honey bee colony losses have been compensated for effectively by beekeepers themselves. Nevertheless, something seems wrong with the world if bees are dying. Initially all sorts of crazy ideas were promoted about the cause of CCD, including radio waves from cell phone towers.  Since then the theories have narrowed to other, more reasonable suspects.  In the past few months some researchers and advocates have claimed that pesticides are the principle cause.  And whenever pesticides are mentioned, the debate is sure to get lively.

The USDA, university researchers and EPA have been mostly united for several years in the position that CCD is the result of multiple causes including parasites, lack of nectar source diversity, diseases, and overworked bees.  However some recent research on neonicotinoid insecticides has raised alarm bells for critics, and has even led to a temporary ban on this group of insecticides in Europe. The research in question includes laboratory studies with bees and field studies with bumblebees, thought to be more sensitive to insecticides than honey bees because of their smaller colony size. Regardless of the current dilemma related to the effect of insecticides in honey bees, there is no doubt of the importance of bees in food production. Pollination, either of consumable vegetables, ornamentals and wild flowers is carried away by honey bees and other pollinators. It is important to learn how to maintain, promote and care for our colonies either as professionals or amateur gardeners. One important method to teach and share information is thru associations.

With the help of interested bee keepers, we are promoting the organization of beekeepers in Hopkins County. People interested in beekeeping are invited to our beekeepers ice cream social July 21 at 6:30 PM at the Hopkins County Extension Office. We will have the opportunity to share with you current information in beekeeping and start off our beekeepers club. The beekeepers social is free and ice cream will be served.

For more information contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 at let us know you are coming!


Mario Villarino DVM, Ph.D.
Hopkins County Extension Agent for Ag and NR
1200B Houston Street
Sulphur Springs, Texas 75482

Author: Staff Reporter

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