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Worker Bees
Charles Dennis says agribusiness practices are killing the bees so critical to our food chain.

By Charles Dennis

Every February, 3,000 trucks from as far away as Florida transport 1 million bee hives to the California valley. In the dark of night workers off load and place the hives, using GPS along 800,000 acres of almond orchards that stretch from Bakersfield into Redding. In the early dawn each day for 22 days, 40 billion bees inundate thousands of trees, flying from blossom to blossom, collecting nectar and pollinating almond bloom, guaranteeing a bountiful crop. Over its four to five-week lifetime a honeybee averages 500 flying miles. A single hive can make 45,000 trips a day to secure food for the colony.

California almond groves provide 90 percent of the world's almonds and depend solely on the efficiency of the honeybee for their harvest each year. This is just one California crop that needs the services of the honeybee. Fully one-third of what we eat, from meat and dairy and fruits and vegetables to cocoa and coffee, rely on this small insect.

Sadly, up to 40 percent of commercial colonies can die each year from colony collapse disorder, a syndrome where female worker honeybees fail to return to the hive. The queen fails from lack of care and egg laying stops. Published studies point to a variety of factors that harm honey bee colonies from neonicotinoid to the Verroa mite. For efficiency, agribusiness relies on crop monoculture and the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. This increases yield and minimizes unwanted pest damage. A healthy, diversified, natural and pesticide-free diet for the honeybee is at odds with these large scale farming techniques. Yet most of the $20 billion California generates from agriculture each year is heavily dependent on the health of the honeybee.

Until the business model changes we will continue to approach this fragile and hard working pollinator with less respect than it is due or one day no longer enjoy, quite literally, the fruits of its labor.  

With a Perspective, I'm Charles Dennis.

Charles Dennis is a pre-school director in San Francisco who lives with his family -- and his bees -- in Marin.
 

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