Bee shortage costing farmers, prompt state incentives

Published: Mar. 5, 2012 at 6:43 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 5, 2012 at 10:20 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Spring is coming, the season of the birds and the bees. But there will be fewer bees this year. The bee population worldwide has been shrinking for years. That's forcing local farmers to pay tens of thousands of dollars to rent bees to pollinate their crops.

"The feral bees are beginning to disappear also, we're not sure why," said Paul Hodge with the Ashland Beekeepers Association

The National Agriculture Statistics Service reports honey producing hives in the United States have shrunk from 4.5 million in 1980 to 2.4 million in 2008. The reasons: pesticides, weather, a mystery illness called Colony Collapse Disorder, and parasites like the parasitic fly and the mite.

"They're known to cause several viruses. Deformed wing disease and a few other viruses," explained Hodge.

The problem: fewer bees are resulting in fewer crops.

"Apples, pears and peaches and most of your berries, nuts, all depend on bees for pollination," Hodge added.

"There are signs throughout the agricultural community that the loss of bees is having a long-term affect on crop production," said State Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath.

That's forcing many farmers to pay beekeepers to put beehives right on their farms to pollinate the crops. At two hives per acre, and an average of 400 acres per farm, the total cost to the average farmer is $40,000 ... to do what bees used to do for free.

The State Senate and House have passed bills to create grants or tax credits to encourage you to become a beekeeper. $200 per hive for a maximum of $2,400. State spending or tax credits for beehives would be capped at $100,000.

"Bees are foundational to our agricultural economy. You've got to have them to have any sort of crop," said Deeds, who sponsored one of the bills.

The grant would cover most of the cost to start a beekeeping operation. A beehive with bees runs about $200. You'll need a protective jacket, they start about $75, a smoker at about $35, and a couple of tools to pull the shelves out of the hive will cost you about $20.

State legislators hope more backyard beekeepers will help keep the agriculture industry, literally, buzzing.

The House and Senate have passed the bills but they depend on setting aside money in the budget to cover them. The state budget is still pending.

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