According to the 15th annual Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) survey for 2020, the number of beekeepers reporting losses of their managed honeybees was up.
US beekeepers lost 45.5% of their managed bees from April 2020 through April 2021. This is the second highest loss since the surveys began in 2006. The average annual loss was 39.4%. These results are being studied by BIP in the hopes of figuring out what can be done to reduce honeybee losses in future.
According to Nathalie Steinhauer, BIP’s science coordinator and a post-doctoral researcher in the University of Maryland Department of Entomology, a normal or acceptable amount of honeybee losses would be around 20%.
Certain agricultural industries, like the apple, blueberry, and almond industries, rely heavily on honeybees to pollinate their crops each year during a very short period of time. So much money is involved, about $15 billion worth of crops annually in the US alone, that beekeepers and farmers are concerned that sufficient honeybees will be available to do the job.
This 6:19-minute video by Kurzgesagt -- In A Nutshell explains the death of bees:
Pesticides, pests like varroa mites, diseases, harsh winters, habitat loss, monocultures and much more are involved in honeybee deaths. Varroa mites take a huge toll on honeybees every year and are probably the biggest consistent threat. Weather events and changes in land-use are understudied as to how they affect managed honeybee populations.
Some honeybee problems can spill over to native and wild bees, so all of this needs to be taken into consideration.
It should be kept in mind that surveys can be unreliable and inconsistent. Only about 7% of all US beekeepers were surveyed. There are 2.71 million managed colonies in the US. The survey was done by 3,347 beekeepers managing 192,384 colonies nationwide.
There were two surveys. One survey was for backyard beekeepers with 50 or less hives and sideliners with 51-500 colonies. The other survey was for commercial beekeepers with over 500 colonies.
Counting bees is impossible, so surveys are the next best data source we have for now. This may change in the near future with some of the new smart technologies being brought to market.
Commercial beekeepers are reported to have fewer losses than backyard beekeepers. This may be due to the fact that they re-queen their hives during the summer to ensure pollination season has strong young queens and lots of new baby bees. It could be why commercial beekeepers report less winter losses.
Experts are concerned that there is no progress over the years to reduce the number of losses. Beekeepers cannot be expected to solve this complex problem alone. They need assistance from government and the public. We are all in this together worldwide.