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The latest buzz about Michigan bees

Some of Ted Elk’s hives are buzzing with bees and honey.
Photo by Julie Grant
Some of Ted Elk’s hives are buzzing with bees and honey.

A recent survey released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the state of Michigan has slipped from seventh to ninth place in national honey production. 

But what is even more worrisome are the declines in honeybee populations. Bees are vital for agriculture throughout the country. When there are fewer bees to pollinate crops, there are fewer crops. 

Richard Mendel is a beekeeper in the Ann Arbor area, and he's the Vice President of the Southeast Michigan chapter of the Michigan Beekeeper Association. Mendel has been a beekeeper since the 60's and has seen the beekeeping landscape change dramatically over the years.

"In the late 60's,  [beekeeping] was really easy. Bees were inexpensive and it was really simple. You got the bees and they survived and they did well. In the 80's we had some problems. After I retired and got more into the beekeeping business, I couldn't believe what transpired."

This year, some surveys reported a 30 percent loss in bees. In the 60's, Mendel said that 10 percent was "an ambient level of loss." Now, some commercial bee keepers see as high as 80 percent bee loss. 

Mendel's chapter is conducting a survey of Southeastern Michigan beekeepers, to track how the 2013 bee population has shifted from 2012 - a year whose early spring, frosts and hot, dry summer took a toll on the bees.

"We're seeing higher losses. Last year, we lost about 18 percent [of the bees], this year we lost 57 percent."

Mendel said that Michigan bees are challenged by pesticides and pathogens. He also attributed higher losses to CCD - Colony Collapse Disorder

The lower levels of honey production aren't as worrisome for Mendel as the lower pollination levels. In the 40's and 50's, honey was the main product of beekeeping. Now, it's just  a byproduct.

Pollination from bees ensures the survival of crops, and because bees are in high demand, they are being shipped all over the country.

But according to Mendel, the relocation of bees might be part of the reason they aren't doing well. 

Bees are transported across the United States. In some cases, Mendel said, bees from Michigan will be transported to Maine or Florida and later end up in Alabama and California. Bees that experience relocation aren't used to it and as a result, pollination and honey products often suffer.

-Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

To hear the full story, click the link above. 

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