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Local beekeeper ‘drained’ by bee shortage

April 12, 2013 at 05:21 PM

Peoria Journal Star

MACKINAW — Steve Mayes said it was another bad winter for his bees.

The owner of Mackinaw Valley Apiaries said he lost 55 percent of the bees he had in 320 hives across central Illinois.

“That’s better than last year when 60 percent died,” Mayes said.

Despite the fact that his honey sells briskly at area stores including Hy-Vee, IGA and County Market outlets, Mayes said the bee business is getting him down.

“I’m in a wind-down mode. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I’m emotionally drained,” said Mayes, who turns 65 this year.

What’s draining him are all the problems that bees have encountered in recent years. Mayes said he recalls having a great year in 2005. “There was so much honey, I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Since then, however, Mayes and beekeepers across the country have witnessed bees hit by mites, disease and, worst and most mysterious of all, a condition labeled colony collapse disorder.

“I have beekeepers call me that say they come back to a hive that’s full of honey but with no bees. I tell them that’s colony collapse disorder,” he said.

Mayes said it may be coincidence, but the problems of disappearing bees came to light at about the same time that synthetic pesticides using neonicotinoid chemicals came into wider use.

The Friends of the Earth identified imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, as the most widely used insecticide in the world. The environmental group pointed to a European study released in January that labeled neonicotinoids as posing “an unacceptable” danger to bees.

Citing a study by the federal government, Mayes said that exposure to the pesticide at a dose of two or three parts per billion was enough to throw off the bees.

“It doesn’t kill them, but they can’t find their way home,” he said.

While researchers grope for answers, the sad fact is that losing half of one’s bees has become an acceptable loss for beekeepers these days, said Mayes, asking, “Who would accept those kind of losses in any other business?”

California’s almond industry, a steadfast supporter of bee research, will need a reported 1.5 million hives this year to pollinate a growing almond crop, he said.

“That’s half of the bee hives in the United States,” said Mayes, adding that the bee problem may only hit home when a crisis results.

“When there’s an almond shortage, they may take notice. No one does anything it seems until the pendulum swings all the way,” he said.

“I get calls from would-be beekeepers who want to get into the business. I tell them to wait a bit, to wait for beekeeping to turn the corner,” Mayes said.

“I tell them to hold off because — and I hate to say this — your bees are going to die,” he said.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow his blog, Minding Business, on and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter

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