Beekeepers are distraught as ‘bee boxes’ that would normally be buzzing with bees have fallen silent. And inside, the boxes are dry, when in other years they would be saturated with honey. The honey crop in North Dakota has been severely affected by a blazing drought that has slashed the production of honey in the highest honey-producing state in the US.
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The drought has killed a majority of the bees and the remaining ones are too weak to produce honey. And it is not only the honey crop that is under threat. Cash crops such as apples, plums, and almonds are also under threat say, farmers and industry experts.
Apiarists in the Midwestern region take their insects to pollinate plantations in the almond farms of California. California is the biggest producer of almonds globally and is facing increasing demand due to its use as a milk substitute. The pollinators are then moved to other crops.
But the West Coast growers, already reeling under the prolonged drought in the western parts of the US, are facing a shortage of pollinating insects. This has added to the soaring cost of procuring water, affecting the price of the products.
Climate Change Behind The Fall In Honey Crop And Other Cash Crops
Scientists have associated climate change with the fall in honey crops and other cash crops. Extreme weather is sending ripples down the food chain, hampering production and quality, rising costs, and wiping out the small farmers completely.
The honey bees are affected by multiple issues such as indiscriminate use of agrochemicals, climate change, and disappearing habitats.
There are 2.7M bee colonies producing honey crops in the US. A fifth of them is in North Dakota. They are indispensable for the pollination of multiple crops such as almonds, apples, peaches, and cherries.
Apart from the honey crop, the bees also contribute through the pollinating service, which alone brought in $254M in 2020, as per government sources.
The honey crop is at its most productive stage during the summer months in the northern plains and the Midwest. Bees forage on rangelands and pastures. Beekeepers harvest the honey crop after the bees have had their fill and stowed away enough to nurture their young.
According to data released by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), 46% of the honey crop in the US comes from South and North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana.
The beehives are transported to milder climatic conditions, such as California, where they generate additional income for the apiarists during fall and winter through leasing the bee colonies to nut and fruit farms to assist in the pollination of crops.
But severe drought-like conditions across the prairies this summer have left the bee colonies weakened. Their numbers have gone down drastically. The fall in the honey crop has also forced apiarists in the region to feed corn syrup or sugar solutions to ensure the survival of the bee colonies.
But these substitutes for honey are low in nutrition and affect their ability to produce honey. They also add to the expense of the beekeepers, already under pressure due to rising production costs.
Apiarists say that events in North Dakota during the summer months are having an impact on crops in California during the end of winter. Colonies of bees that have been weakened due to a lack of sufficient honey to last them through the winter will not be strong enough to support the impending almond bloom.
Production is down by around 50% as North Dakota goes through its worst-ever drought in the last 35 years. Dwindling supplies have increased prices by around 15% to 20% even as margins take a plunge.
Apiaries will take a double hit as pollination service revenues will also be down this year.
California, home to around 80% of global almond production will face a shock in September and October. Growers here required around 2.5M colonies in 2020 as areas under cultivation have doubled in the last 15 years.
They, too, face trouble on two fronts; severe droughts and a lack of healthy pollinators due to dwindling hive strength that has everyone scrambling.