Sunday, May 19, 2013

This may be the world's most critical agricultural crisis

Eventually, water supply is going to be more important, and probably cause far more difficulties (as well as deaths), but right now, the world's most critical agricultural crisis is ...

Honeybees.   (Kudos to you if you've been paying attention and already know this.)

As it stands, I think that it would make some sense to store away some almonds in anticipation of the imminent almond shortage.  That would sound kind of funny if I didn't believe I wasn't kidding.   Hazelnuts and cashews and walnuts, too. And there are some fruits that it might pay to save:  blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, tangerines, tangelos, oranges, apples, avocados, pears, raspberries... are you starting to get worried yet?

Orange blossom honey?  In your dreams, sweetheart. 

The plight of the honeybee (from National Geographic)

This is where it gets downright scary:

"The latest data, from the 2012-2013 winter, indicate an average loss of 45.1 percent of hives across all U.S. beekeepers, up 78.2 percent from the previous winter, and a total loss of 31.1 percent of commercial hives, on par with the last six years. (Most keepers now consider a 15 percent loss "acceptable.")"

This article is even more apocalypse-is-nightic:

Bee deaths may have reached a crisis point for crops

How bad is it?

Farmers who grow crops like almonds, blueberries and apples rely on commercial beekeepers to make sure their crops get pollinated.

But the number of honeybees has now dwindled to the point where there may not be enough to pollinate those crops.

Pettis says that this year, farmers came closer than ever to a true pollination crisis. The only thing that saved part of the almond crop in California was some lovely weather at pollination time.

"We got incredibly good flight weather," Pettis says. "So even those small colonies that can't fly very well in cool weather, they were able to fly because of good weather."

Some more concerning articles:

Bee deaths create a crisis for crops

Without honeybees, we may cease to be

Mystery malady kills more bees, heightening worry on farms

Mr. Dahle said he had planned to bring 13,000 beehives from Montana — 31 tractor-trailers full — to work the California almond groves. But by the start of pollination last month, only 3,000 healthy hives remained.

Almonds are a bellwether. Eighty percent of the nation’s almonds grow here, and 80 percent of those are exported, a multibillion-dollar crop crucial to California agriculture. Pollinating up to 800,000 acres, with at least two hives per acre, takes as many as two-thirds of all commercial hives. 

This past winter’s die-off sent growers scrambling for enough hives to guarantee a harvest. Chris Moore, a beekeeper in Kountze, Tex., said he had planned to skip the groves after sickness killed 40 percent of his bees and left survivors weakened. 

“But California was short, and I got a call in the middle of February that they were desperate for just about anything,” he said. So he sent two truckloads of hives that he normally would not have put to work. 

Like I said, you may want to lay aside some almonds for a rainy day.


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