When last we left our plucky pollinators, the situation was grim. CCD (colony collapse disorder) was decimating honeybee populations and furrowing the brows of agricultural officials. What happens if honeybees lose this battle?
Maybe not much.
But is CCD such a tragedy? The honeybee may be the only insect ever extended charismatic megafauna status, but it's already gone from the wild (and it wasn't even native to North America to begin with). Sure, it makes honey, but we already get most of that from overseas. What about the $14.6 billion in "free labor"? It's more expensive than ever: In the last three years, the cost to rent a hive during the California almond bloom has tripled, from $50 to $150.This entire episode has caused me to rethink what I think I know about this corner of food production. Like many, I found myself sucked in by some pretty wild predictions, when most consumers may not notice much more than higher prices on specific foods. Which right now can get lost in the general food inflation.
Good thing the honeybee isn't the only insect that can pollinate our crops. In the last decade, research labs have gotten serious about cultivating other insects for mass pollination. They aren't at the point yet where they can provide all of the country's pollination needs, but they're getting there. This year the California Almond Board two-timed the honeybee with osmia ligneria—the blue-orchard bee: Despite CCD, they had a record harvest. [More]
Still, this mysterious malady (current most likely cause: miticide buildup in the comb) is crippling an important ag industry, and deserves serious efforts by the government to correct.
Maybe beekeepers should get an LDP. That's how we solve things in ag.