At Farm Show, beekeepers weigh hope, doubt about honey bee decline

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) - You may have heard honey bees are dying across the country.

It's a big problem: Through pollination, bees help sustain more than a hundred different crops. There's hope they'll rebound in Pennsylvania, but the warm winter raises concern.

It's a good sign when a honey extraction demonstration at the Farm Show is standing-room only, but 8th generation beekeeper Gary Carns of Dauphin County knows it takes a lot more to save the pollinators.

"Today," he said, "we have to work a whole lot harder than we used to work to maintain honey bees."

Carns was at the Farm Show to spread the word. Last year, Pennsylvania beekeepers averaged a 60 percent loss of hives. The national average is about 40 percent.

"If a dairyman lost 60 percent of his cows every year, there would be uproar," Carns said.

He believes the driving force behind the die-off is too much planting of crops like corn and soybeans, which honey bees do not pollinate. The insects' nutritional intake has changed as a result, he said, making them weaker.

Researchers disagree over the causes of colony collapse, but whether it's pesticides, low genetic diversity, parasitic mites, or an unbalanced diet, bees dying is bad news.

It means less pollination, which could lead to lower food supplies and higher costs, said Pittsburgh beekeeper Alyssa Fine.

Fine is also worried about the mild winter.

"What we would expect in warmer temperatures like this," she said, "it could be bad."

That's because the bees will move around in the hive more and eat more of the honey they stocked up, she said.

If they run out, they might die before the spring bloom. It takes more babysitting from beekeepers to make sure they have enough to eat. Many will add sugar or candy to the hive for the bees to feed on.

"But the good news is we have seen a big increase in the amount of people who are interested in beekeeping," Fine said.

In fact, the number of members in the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association has nearly doubled in the last five years to about 4,000.

And the more bees, the better.

Fine and Carns both said it would help if more people decided to keep a hive or two on their property, as well as use fewer pesticides on gardens and lawns.

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