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As bees vanish, food supply is threatened

Updated: Tuesday, November 19 2013, 04:22 PM EST

by Adam Chodak

Hamlin, N.Y. -- For Jim Doan, honeybees have provided so much more than honey.

“I wouldn’t say they’re perfect, but they’re pretty darn close to it,” Doan said, standing beside seasoned wood pallets once used as the foundation for beehives.

Doan’s father gave him his first hive of bees.

The childhood hobby grew into a livelihood.

“At one point, I was running 5,300 hives of bees here in Western New York,” Doan said.

That success was not to last.

On a cold day in 2006, Doan took the short walk from the back of his house in Hamlin to check on his hives.

“The bees had simply disappeared from the hives,” he said. “I took a 90% loss in bees that year.”

What Doan had hoped was an anomaly became a trend.

“We struggled for 7 years trying to make up bees,” Doan said.

The business that once produced 85 to 120 pounds of honey per hive was trying to survive on 10 to 15.

“We have never experienced anything like this,” Doan said. “Our losses are just tremendous.”

It wasn’t long after that first disastrous year, Doan got calls from beekeepers from around the country.

“It’s everyone, there’s no one exempt from this problem,” Doan said.

Honeybees are dying, or simply vanishing, at an alarming rate, coast to coast.

The phenomenon has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, and it has terrified farmers and apiarists alike.

“There’s really not an easy substitute for what bees do,” said Bob King, senior agriculture specialist at Monroe Community College.

Honeybees are free labor.

“Honeybees have been the backbone of pollination here in Rochester and around the world,” King said.

According to government studies, one third of our food is directly linked the pollination by insects.

King says the population drop usually occurs in the winter, which makes what has happened in the past six months all the more troubling.

“In this situation, what we’re experiencing is the bees are gradually dwindling during the summer months until eventually there’s no bees in the hive,” King said.

So what is killing the bees?

Doan blames neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used on farms and home gardens.

“In bees’ cases, it attacks the ends of their nerves,” Doan claimed.

King says the jury is still out on pesticides and suggests the possibility CCD could be the result of a perfect storm.

“Whether it’s malnutrition, whether it’s the disease-causing organisms or the pesticides or there’s an interaction effect that’s going on there,” King said.

Whatever the cause, King says people can potentially help by not using the suspect pesticides.

“Homeowners can try to tolerate bees and try to provide forage for bees,” King said. “You don’t have to be killing off your dandelion or your clover; they are an important forage for bees.”

Doan’s suggestion goes a step further.

“We need the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to put a ban on them until the studies are completed,” Doan argued.

Doan now has the time to concentrate on this cause.

What was once a livelihood is now, once again, a hobby.

He recently sold his farm and those wood pallets may soon fuel a spectacular bonfire.

“I’m not happy about it, but the time for tears is pretty much over with,” he said.

As bees vanish, food supply is threatened

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