Battle for the Bees

February 19th 2008 Without bees to pollinate orchards there would be no almond crop.

Many beekeepers have suffered severe losses due to a mysterious and still unsolved ailment known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Some have begun seeking help down under to meet demand during their busiest time of year.

Beekeeper losses are literally stacking up.

Keith Watkins calls this his beehive graveyard.

"They're all basically just shells. All the bees are gone. When there's no bees in the box it's really not worth anything."

Colony Collapse Disorder has claimed well over half of his bees.

Keith Watkins: "It's saddening because we've put a lot of time into this. 29 years and I kind of don't have much hope in it anymore. It's taken all the fun out of it."

Watkins spent over a hundred-thousand dollars to have replacement bees shipped in from Australia.

"It's a big cluster, looks like a spring swarm. It's a good way to populate your colonies."

"We put them in our dead colonies and they've been accepted so far."

Almond orchards have begun to blossom. Growers rely on the bees to pollinate one of the Valley's top crops worth half a billion dollars.

On some farms the valuable boxes are placed within a fenced-in area.

Not a bad idea, Watkins just had eight hives stolen out of a Madera Orchard.

After three decades in the business, Keith thinks his beekeeping days may almost be over.

"I'd like to but I'm not sure the economics of it are gonna be viable."

Keith Watkins says this will be a pivotal year for many beekeepers experts say mites, viruses and malnourishment all contribute to colony collapse disorder making it that much harder to keep the bees alive through the winter.

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