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Collapsing honeybee population worries California almond growers

by Chris Hinyub, published

California almond growers have reason to be worried, very worried. Honeybee populations across the country have declined sharply since last Fall. The California almond industry, supplying 80 percent of the world market of almonds, requires roughly half of the nation's commercial hives to pollinate its groves. This ratio might see a dramatic change when new tallies on hives are available this Spring.

Many beekeepers have seen Winter hive losses as high as 50 percent. One Pennsylvania beekeeper told the Washington Post, “This was probably the worst year ever.”

After a year of slowing down, “colony-collapse disorder,” or CCD, has reemerged in an ominous way. The phenomenon is characterized by a sudden drop in beehive populations as foraging bees fail to return to their hives. With one third of the nation's crops pollinated by insects (the majority being honeybees), the newest reports from apiarists are not just troubling  for Californians. 

The current rate of bee disappearance is actually an uptick in an almost four year established trend. A new study claims that hive losses have stabilized at 30 percent per year. But that report doesn't include this Winter's data. One bee industry official has claimed that from 30 to 80 percent of California's hives have succumbed to CCD.

Researchers have yet to pin down the cause of the mysterious condition affecting honeybees nationwide. While some posit that a parasitic mite is to blame, others claim malnutrition or increased pesticide use is the source of the problem. The only consensus that has been reached: a multitude of factors are working to wipe out the bees.

An almond industry insider said it is too soon to see if this year's yields will be affected by the continuing decline in bee colonies. Right now, growers are preoccupied with moisture induced problems from continued rains and freezing temperatures.

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