Stakes are High for Honeybees
A survey conducted by the USDA shows apiaries continue to lose nearly one-third of hives each year.
That has led some environmental activists to push for further restrictions on a pesticide used to treat seed corn.
Meanwhile, two central Illinois beekeepers are seeing very different results as they work to keep bees healthy in the Midwest Corn Belt.
61-year-old Arvin Pierce has been preventing calls to the exterminator for seven years. Each colony removal is a discovery.
“You’ll get these open and it’s kind of like a present. You know, ‘cause you open it up, every time it’s different. It’s a little surprise,” said Pierce.
Watch a video of Pierce removing a honeybee colony:
Pierce said colonies are especially valuable. He believes natural selection makes these bees - thriving in the wild - stronger than those treated with chemicals to ward off pests and infection.
“I don't like chemicals. I grew up on a little black dirt farm and it is just the principle that I have that the less chemicals you use, the better off you are.”
While beekeepers around the country reported losses of bees around 30%, Pierce's loss rate over the winter has been closer to 3%.
Another central Illinois beekeper - who, like Pierce, collects swarms of live bees - has not been that lucky this year.
Rick Nuss of Rantoul, a town north of Champaign-Urbana, has filed a complaint with the EPA and the Illinois Dept. of Agriculture, claiming a farmer planting pesticide-treated seed corn killed two of his 13 hives and severely weakened those colonies that did survive.
“I went out after he got done planting and looked, and there were piles of dead bees out in front of my hives. The next morning when I went out and looked it was like a carpet of bees,” Nuss said.
Nuss said he will be lucky if he can produce a tenth of the honey he did in 2012.
This year his local beekeeping association warned him about the suspected danger of neonicotinoids… chemicals found in popular pesticides, including Bayer’s “Poncho”, which is used to treat seed corn before planting.
So how dangerous are neonicotinoids for bees in Illinois?
It appears the chemical has not been dangerous enough to warrant much reporting to government regulators whose job it is to investigate pesticide misuse.
Records obtained from the State Department of Agriculture through the Freedom of Information Act indicate only two beekeepers have filed incident reports in the past four years. That’s two out of the state’s 2,000 registered apiaries.
Nuss believes beekeepers in his area simply haven’t had enough information.