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Disease, drought, theft making dent in local bee colonies
bee pic1
Over one-third of the worlds plantsfruits, vegetables, and flowering plantsdepend on bee pollination, according to the USDA. - photo by BROOKE BORBA / The Journal

A shortage of honey bees continues to be reported throughout the United States, creating a significant threat to the world’s food production and almond crop industry in Turlock.

Over one-third of the world’s plants—fruits, vegetables, and flowering plants—depend on bee pollination, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Here in Northern California, honey bees are valued at $20 billion a year based on their pollination patterns alone. Without bees, habitats would have to rely on winds to disperse pollen, which is less effective in sustaining natural resources and food crops.

Since 2006, colony collapse disorder has doubled the decline in the number of bee colonies lost every  year to pests, drought and diseases. These factors have made surviving bee colonies increase in value — and made them targets for theft.

Darren Cox, vice president of the American Honey Producers Association, recently had 80 hives stolen from the Oakdale-Waterford area. He posted a $10,000 reward for the bees'  return. Cox attributes the theft to the bee shortage just now being felt in California.

“California only started to become aware of the shortage last summer. Pestilence, pesticides and drought are key factors,” said Cox. “Last year we witnessed a drought in California. If you have a drought, it will make it really tough on bees and bring about pests and pesticides.”

Cox warned that the bee shortage will affect local almond production. More than 80 percent of global almond production is based in California and approximately 800,000 acres of almonds trees rely on pollination services from bees. Each year, 1.6 million bee colonies are needed in order to fulfill these services.

“It is hard to maintain bees per acreage. There is too much demand for the supply,” said Cox.

The almond crop value for 2013 is expected to be worth $3 billion. As a result, state agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency are conducting investigations into bee deaths in the Central Valley. Additionally, the Almond Board of California, which is a representative of 6,000 growers, has poured over $1 million into bee research.

“California is financially invested compared to any other state because they know the risk. California has a much greater agricultural base, and is like its own other country compared to other states in that respect,” Cox said.