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Washington and Oregon added to list of states exhibiting CCD

Washington and Oregon have been officially added to the list of states showing evidence of Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious and unexplained ailment which is killing honeybee populations in the United States.

On Feb. 28, only hours after Washington was added to the list, Jerry Tate, Washington State Beekeeper Association's director, told The Produce News that three Washington beekeepers took substantial losses. While a loss of 20 percent is considered average for beekeepers, Mr. Tate said that two of the three beekeepers lost approximately 50 percent of their honeybees.

"The losses to the two beekeepers were a complete surprise," said Mr. Tate, owner of Tate's Honey Farm in Spokane, WA.

Chuck Sowers, president of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association and owner of Sowers Apiaries in Canby, OR, said that one incident of Colony Collapse Disorder was reported and resulted in the state's listing. The mysterious disorder is further complicated in Oregon by the inability of the association to locate the troubled colony. "We don't know where it is," Mr. Sowers stated.

Both men agreed that bee colonies in Washington and Oregon look good at this time, and losses in the Pacific Northwest are expected to be minimal.

Growers, however, are likely to see increases in the costs to pollinate apple, cherry and pear orchards.

While beekeepers have dealt with problems in the past that have plagued honeybee colonies, CCD has left tens of thousands of honeybees missing or dead without explanation.

Teams of researchers at federal bee laboratories in Maryland, Florida and Texas as well as experts at Pennsylvania State University are working on the problem. To date, the hardest hit areas of the United States are the East Coast, California and Texas.

"The East Coast is a disaster," Mr. Tate observed.

The hives are measured by the number of frames with bees, said Mr. Tate, and there are typically 12-14 frames per colony going into the winter. After the bees have overwintered, the number of viable frames is usually around seven. Beekeepers can add additional bees to build up the number of frames, but Mr. Tate said it is impossible to recover when beekeepers have only one viable frame surviving the winter.

He went on to say that bee colonies are apparently affected when they are moved into warmer climates. "Bees leave [their colonies], and they don't come back," Mr. Tate said.

Mr. Sowers said that beekeepers can only speculate as to what is causing the die-offs. Larval bees, whose metamorphosis is similar to the development of butterflies, are fed pollen by young adults. According to Mr. Sowers, the older adults are the pollen gatherers, which bring the food source back to the hive. If the adults fail to return, there is inadequate nourishment for the larval bees.

Mites can also be introduced during this development process, and Mr. Sowers said that the parasites will feed on the immature bees, causing physical deformities. "If the bee emerges deformed, the colony will run the bee off," Mr. Sowers stated.

The adult bees power themselves with nectar and honey, and there is also speculation that these adults may be inadequately nourished to perform their critical tasks.

It is unknown whether the placement of chemical strips in colonies to control mites may have taken a toll on bee colonies. Mr. Tate said that over time, the mites may have developed a resistance to the chemicals.

Additionally, pesticide application in the field may h ave resulted in contaminated pollen. "Most people aren't using those kinds of chemicals [today]," Mr. Sowers said.

Mr. Tate noted that drones don't display the same kind of hive loyalty as worker bees, and can spread disease from colony to colony as a result.

The number of beekeepers has declined nationally as the cost of production has increased. Mr. Sowers said that he brought in some bees from New Zealand last year and recently purchased 200 colonies from Australia.

The cost was approximately $125 per group for the Australian bees, he noted. In all, Sowers Apiaries runs approximately 1,400 colonies to service its clients.

According to Mr. Tate, hive rental, currently at $112 per colony, varies according to time of year. In both Washington and Oregon, bees are primarily used on the commercial side for pollination. Honey production is a secondary industry in both states.

Bob Bailey, owner of Orchard View Farms in The Dalles, OR, has approximately 1,500 acres of cherries to pollinate. "For all our varieties of cherries, we need bees for cross pollination," he said. "It takes one to two hives of bees per acre."

Self-pollinating trees are intermingled with cross-pollinating varieties, and Mr. Bailey said that pollination begins in April. With two areas to pollinate, he said that the company needs bees anywhere from 20 to 30 days.

Mr. Bailey indicated that contract details will be worked out in March. "It's a wait-and-see game for growers," he said. "People need to line bees up early to get adequate coverage."

Pollination times for cherry and pear orchards are longer than times required for apples. The reason for this, Mr. Sowers explained, is that nectar in apple blossoms has the highest sugar content, followed by cherry blossoms.

Because apple and cherry blossoms are so attractive, Mr. Sowers said that bees are introduced at the beginning of budding. Apple pollination occurs in a matter of days to avoid overproduction problems. Hives are generally kept in cherry and pear orchards for several weeks. With pears, the bees are introduced when blossoming has reached 20-30 percent of the orchard.

Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest, said that news of CCD is disturbing. "It used to be a mite hurting the industry," he said. "This is something new. I haven't heard of any bee shortages, but there will be increased costs for pollination."

Pears orchards are pollinated in April and May, and Mr. Moffitt said that the sheer density of tree fruits pollinated in Washington and Oregon helps keep the bees busy.