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Illinois Farmers Scrambling To Make Up For Honeybee Losses

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jun 11, 2014 3:45PM

Photo credit: Renee Rendler-Kaplan

Farmers in northern Illinois are working to replenish the area’s honeybee population as they head into the peak growing season. The harsh winter resulted in beekeepers in DeKalb County losing nearly 70 percent of their bees. Honeybees are a vital part of the food chain because they pollinate a variety of crops from apples, onions, carrots to specialty crops like almonds, cotton and alfalfa.

Carolyn Huden told the (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle she couldn’t get to any of the 36 honeybee colonies she tends until March because of the snow. “You see it. You feel it. And there's nothing you can do. Silence is dead,” Huden said.

The estimated honeybee losses are greater than average; normal loss rates are around 40 percent. Although beekeepers are scrambling to replace their hives and build new colonies, they’re taking a wait-and-see approach to when the bees will begin pollinating.

The USDA reports 23 percent of bees nationwide were lost during the winter, a lower-than-average number. The agency’s Natural Resource Conservation Service announced a $3 million program in February to provide technical assistance to improve bee health in five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Illinois beekeepers, however, will have to eat their costs to replace their hives.

The massive loss also means we could see less local honey at farmers markets this autumn. Huden told the Daily Chronicle she would be lucky to have any honey to harvest by July.