Oregon beekeepers: No quick fix for colony collapse

Beekeeping is a $500 million industry in Oregon. Beekeepers in the state say there's no easy answer to colony collapse disorder.

Beekeeping is a $500 million industry in Oregon. Beekeepers in the state say there's no easy answer to colony collapse disorder.

A recent study linking the mysterious disappearance of bees known as colony collapse disorder to a Bayer pesticide is causing a stir.

The study by Harvard researchers is claiming to have found convincing evidence that a pesticide used on most U.S.-grown corn is a likely cause of the mysterious disorder killing massive quantities of bees. Since the Harvard announcement, tens of thousands of people have lobbied the EPA to revoke Bayer permits.

But local bee expert Ramesh Sagili, an assistant professor in Oregon State University’s Department of Horticulture, says curing colony collapse disorder is unlikely to be so easy as removing a single pesticide from the market. There is still much work to be done to identify the root causes of colony collapse and treat the deadly disorder, he said.

Beekeeping is a $500 million industry in Oregon, and a $20 billion industry in America, according to Sagili. Many beekeepers earn about a third of their income producing honey, but their primary service is pollinating crops for farmers.

Colony collapse disorder began affecting bees in 2006, provoking concern among beekeepers, farmers and consumers about bee and food shortages and rising costs. By 2007, beekeepers observed annual die-offs of 32 percent nationally, Sagili said. In Oregon, beekeepers have fared well compared with other areas of the country, losing only 17 percent of stock in 2011, 13 percent below the national average of 30 percent. Such better-than-average outcomes have been consistent in the Pacific Northwest, though no one knows why.

Despite the comparatively favorable situation, Oregon beekeepers still have a tougher business. They’ve absorbed new costs to ward off colony collapse. They now provide dietary supplements and invest in insecticide and medical treatments to keep away mites, fungus and diseases. Jan Lohman, president of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association, and George Hansen, a beekeeper and owner of The Foothills Honey Company LLC, which has 5,000 hives, agree that colony collapse is unlikely to be remedied with a single finding.

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