Goodbye Bees, Goodbye Humanity

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Honeybees and sustainability: not necessarily two words you may have expected to see in the same sentence, but they do actually belong!

This fascinating insect known as the honeybee is the tool by which we harvest and ultimately consume the sweet product known as honey. And harvesting honeybees and their sweet honey is no small task and no small business.

According to PBS.org, there are many tens of millions of honeybees in the U.S. alone, parts of colonies that consumers rely on for their honey, wax and more.

Honeybees play a huge role in our commerce and agriculture. According to PBS’s “Nature,” honeybees “pollinate about one-third of crop species in the U.S. Honeybees pollinate about 100 flowering food crops including apples, nuts, broccoli, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, celery, squash and cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, melons, as well as animal-feed crops, such as the clover that’s fed to dairy cows. Essentially all flowering plants need bees to survive.”

Another key to what makes it so very important to understand honeybees is that honeybees in the U.S. have also been ravaged by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). While it is still unclear precisely what has caused so many colonies to incur bee losses, part of the problem may be attributed to parasites and pesticide usage and a lack of proper education as to ecological implications of beekeeping and how to best integrate bees into their local surroundings.

With an eye toward the future and an understanding of the significance of the honeybee, numerous sustainable beekeeping practices and programs have been started to help beekeepers to keep their colonies healthy and to become better-versed in how to take care of their colonies. Some individuals suggest the answer lies in breeding and raising honeybees that are “[r]esistant to diseases and parasitic mites to reduce the amount of antibiotics and pesticides used in bee colonies and to ensure that our breeding methods and stock are accessible to beekeepers everywhere” and thus lead to a reduction in pesticide use.

One program is a pilot program at the University of Georgia, called the Honey Bee Program, the goal of which is to “emphasize sustainable bee health management as well as more basic questions on bee pollination and foraging ecology. In all its initiatives, the UGA Honey Bee Program aims to develop research, teaching and extension initiatives that are locally responsive while globally relevant.”

Another interesting program is Sustainablebees.org, the purpose of which is to “establish an integrated program of scientific development, education and community support directed toward reestablishing, strengthening, growing and sustaining regional honeybee colonies that are a critical component in the pollination of local food production and overall health and biodiversity of our plant environment.”

There are many interesting ideas on how best to keep our honeybees, a vital agricultural resource, safe and to do so in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way, through reduction in pesticide use, local growing, breeding and more. Stay tuned and learn more about what methods are most effective!

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