ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Many see them as pests, but honey bees play a vital role in our ecosystem. Unfortunately, they’re disappearing at an alarming rate across the country, which could have grave consequences if the trend continues.
Jeff Danky, beekeeper and owner of Minnesota honey producer Minnetonka Gold, says the amount of bees in our environment is an issue that touches everyone.
“It affects what’s on your plate for dinner,” said Danky.
According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, since 2007 an average of 20 percent of all bee colonies in the U.S. have died. Danky has witnessed the decline first hand.
“Every winter… wintering in Minnesota has been very difficult,” said Danky.
So what’s behind the buzz kill? Disease, low plant diversity, pesticide misuse, flowerless landscapes and parasites.
“Smaller beekeepers in particular are having a harder time trying to treat mites and mites are the biggest frustration for most of us,” Danky told FOX9.
Researchers report bees pollinate 70 percent of our fruits and vegetables.
University of Minnesota Assistant Professor Dan Cariveau, who works in at the university’s Department of Entomology, studies wild bees closely.
“This group of insects is really important pollinators,” said Cariveau.
Some bee species have gone extinct over the past ten years. Part of the problem for farmers and beekeepers alike lies in what researchers still don’t know yet.
“We don’t even know how many species are here in Minnesota. We think there are about 400 or so, but we’re just now starting to get that inventory.”
When producers buy bees from other parts of the country, they risk contributing to the decline. Bees unfamiliar with the climate naturally find it hard to survive Minnesota’s harsh winters.
Crystal Boyd, a bee researcher with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is currently conducting a survey of the state’s population and is conducting work to identify native species.
“It’s hard to track them without that data,” Boyd told FOX 9 over the phone.
Fortunately, Boyd offers a solution to saving our bees everyone play a part in and it starts in our yards.
“Plant some local native wild flowers and keep those flowers clean,” said Boyd, who adds there are hundreds of options.
Boyd says it’s important to use a variety of flowers. Flowers of different shapes, sizes and colors all offer something different for the bees and flowers.
Bees help generate $29 billion in farm income.
Another way to help keep bees alive is to tolerate small amounts of weeds in your yard and reduce how much pesticide you use overall.