Monday, July 24, 2006

Maybe it is some of your beeswax...

The bee population in the US is in trouble - I think. While the immediate threat is an invasive mite - varroa destructor - many beekeepers also cite the loss of pesticide-free felds and moncultures of unsuitable crops for a sharp decline in bee numbers.
"Pollination is a valuable service that we're destroying through our land management practices," says Kremen. But she points out that there are many ways conventional farming could change to support bees. One is to grow cover crops like rye and clover, which aren't harvested but instead plowed under to enrich the soil after they've flowered. Farmers could also use roadsides and ditches to restore native plants and create bee-nesting areas. They could reduce their use of pesticides or apply them at night, when bees aren't flying. Growers ought to do these things, Kremen believes, not out of selfless concern for threatened bees but because, in the end, it will protect their own bottom line. Since honeybees -- which now pollinate up to $14 billion worth of crops annually in this country -- are in steep decline, native bees are needed as a backup. The costs of managing bee habitat could be offset by reductions in the amount a farmer spends on renting honeybees, a cost that continues to increase for many crops. In 1999, for example, U.S. plum growers paid about $6.4 million for honeybee pollination.

It is ironic that honeybees are themselves non-native species - so I guess introducing exotic species is OK if it works out - a rather flexible dogma for enviromental purists.

The other question I have is if loss of bees threatens crops like alfalfa (presumably seed alfalfa) why haven't prices skyrocketed? (Be sure to read the part about why they need young, stupid bees)

I also wonder if GM crops wouldn't be better for the bees. (I don't think Bt affects them). That would put GM opponents in an odd place.

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