Valley Beekeepers Seek Answers

May 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
One-third of the nation's food supply relies on bee pollination. In the valley, without bees there would be no almonds or cherries.A mysterious disease continues to kill off colonies. Beekeepers like David Bradshaw of Visalia are looking to researchers at UC Davis for answers.

David's dad started the beekeeping business in the 1950's. But these are frustrating times. For the second straight year Bradshaw has lost half his hives to colony collapse disorder. A large shipping container was filled with even more empty bee boxes.

Bradshaw said "You put a lot of money into the bees and expect to get a return on it. Come the eleventh hour half the bees are gone. You'll just find dead after dead after dead."

Bradshaw hopes the research being conducted at UC Davis can help reduce the massive bee losses. Experts call it an environmental wake up call.

Bee Biologist, Eric Mussen, said "It's the perfect storm for bees. They have lots of viruses that we've found. They have a fungus disease which we've found. There are traces of pesticides in their food."

Researchers believe they can improve hive health through selective breeding. Entomologist Sue Cobey said "If we can pick out the ones that are handling this better and cross those and get a more vigorous bee that's really the goal."

In the meantime, beekeepers like David Bradshaw have been fortifying the sweet syrup they spray onto their bees. Bradshaw said "We add a chemical antibiotic called fumigelin. It acts as a fungicide."

The bees eat the medicine as they clean themselves off. Bradshaw says the medicated spray seems to be working and the bees protecting their queen didn't seem to mind. "If they were mad it would feel you're in a hailstorm."

Bradshaw says honey prices are at an all-time high but because he lost so many bees early in the season he won't be able to cash in this year.

Some valley beekeepers have been devastated. Others report no significant losses.


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