WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — If there was ever proof small critters can have a big impact, look at bees. They are a vital part of American agriculture, and their return from a devastating winter has cheered up not only beekeepers, but farmers who rely on their pollinating power.
Bees have been dying in record numbers for more than a decade, but extreme cold and heavy snow last winter wiped out more hives than normal.
“I had fourteen hives going into winter, and I came out of winter with only two,” said Jim Taul, a Lafayette police officer who has kept bees at his home for the last four years. He said it’s nice to have fresh honey all the time. He has involved his daughter, a 4-H member, in his beekeeping hobby.
Commercial beekeepers and researchers were also concerned about the massive bee kill, especially as pesticides and mites continue to ravage the bugs. Purdue entomology professor and bee specialist Greg Hunt found the same thing Taul did when he went to his hives as the winter faded.
“You go to your hive in the spring and you see an empty box,” Hunt said. “You open it up and you might see a cluster, a small cluster of dead bees inside.”
Hunt said as much as 67 percent of the bees in Indiana died last winter, compared to around 50 percent during a normal winter. As a result, he said farmers who grow crops reliant on bees, such as blueberries and squash, were likely worried about this year’s yields. Corn and soybean farmers do not rely on bees, so Indiana is far better off than many other states.
California, for example, needs honeybees to pollinate many of its crops, from cherries to apples to almonds. Eighty percent of the worlds almonds come from the state’s Central Valley. A decline in the bee population combined with severe drought through much of California has meant higher almond prices at grocery stores.
Fortunately for those betting on bees, local hives are bouncing back this summer allowing Taul to tout his 30 jars of honey.
“It’s been a good year, it’s been a mild July,” Taul said. “We’ve had rain when we needed it, and the bees are loving it.”
With his hives strengthening, Hunt will continue his mite-fighting research at Purdue’s hives just west of campus.
“Since the winter, the bees have rebounded very nicely,” he said.