A proposed assessment fee on beekeepers that do business in California is causing a storm of controversy amongst the industry.
The purpose of the assessment fee is to establish and create the California Apiary Research Commission, which would collect a fee of up $1 per hive on any beekeeper in the state with 50 or more colonies. The commission would be responsible for research into Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is when a hive has little or no adult workers bees present in the hive. There is a queen with juvenile bees and honey is present but the workers bees disappear.
Every spring the Central Valley attracts hundreds of beekeepers from all over the nation for the almond pollination. An increase in cost for beekeepers could be passed onto almond growers, who rely on bees, which in turn could be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.
Many beekeepers say they will vote against forming the commission because they don’t want to be forced to pay a fee when they are already hurting in tough economic times.
One beekeeper, Orin Johnson, said the fee of up to $1 won’t hurt him.
“It costs me about $200 to operate and maintain one hive, but I think we need more research so I think I will support it, it won’t hurt me. We are a small industry and we don’t generate enough revenue for large research projects, so what they are trying to do is spread the impact around,” he said.
In order to establish the commission beekeepers must pass a referendum equal to 65 percent of the bee colonies kept in California or 65 percent of California beekeepers. Referendum turnout must be 30 percent.
“The climate right now is not good, the idea is excellent for supporting research into CCD but it may have a hard time passing right now,” said Johnson.
Beekeepers can register until the end of May to vote.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables. About one mouthful in three directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.
“California agriculture needs honey bees to prosper,” said California Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa). “Many of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown by our farmers come from insect-pollinated plants. We need to protect honey bees in order to preserve the production of healthy and nutritious food in our state.”
Evans authored the bill to establish the commission in the summer of 2010.
Case studies and beekeeper questionnaires related to hive management practices and environmental factors have identified a few common factors shared by beekeepers experiencing CCD, but no common environmental agents or chemicals stand out as causative. There are three major possibilities that researchers want to investigate further:
1) Pesticides could be having unexpected negative effects on honey bees.
2) A new parasite or pathogen may be attacking honey bee colonies. One possible candidate being looked at is a pathogenic gut microbe called Nosema and viruses are also suspected.
3) A perfect storm of existing stress on bees may have weakened colonies leading to collapse. Stress, in general, compromises the immune system of bees (and other social insects) and may disrupt their social system, making colonies more open to disease or viruses.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.