Local News

N.C. Farms May Feel Sting Of Bee Shortage

Posted January 11, 2005

— A third of everything people eat is tied to honey bees, but there is a shortage of bees and beekeepers in North Carolina.

Bees may be small, but they are significant. They pollinate about 100 different kinds of crops like cucumbers.

"If you do not have honey bees, you do not have cucumbers," beekeeper Jeff Lee said.

There are currently 13 full-time commercial beekeepers in the state. Last year, there were not enough hives to go around.

"That corresponds to approximately 5,000 to 10,000 acres of crops that could not be pollinated," Lee said.

Lee said if the bee shortage continues, everyone will feel it.

"What the consumer is going to see is the price of vegetables and other berry crops is just going to continually rise," he said.

"We're getting to the point where the demand for bees is far exceeding the supply within the state," said David Tarpy, an apiculturist at North Carolina State University.

N.C. State has just launched a new program to attract beekeepers before it is too late.

"I think we're at a critical point because if we don't act now, a couple years down the road, we will have an agricultural crisis," Tarpy said.

Compounding the problem now are mites that have been killing off honey bees.

"I've lost 35 percent of my colonies this fall alone," Lee said.

Tobacco also enters into the honey bee equation. Farmers are turning to new crops that rely on bees, adding to the demand even more, but there is a bright spot. N.C. State's new beekeeper program has already received about 100 applications.

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