Spring 2012


Understanding the Economics of Bee Demise

Brian GrossBrian Gross

When a mysterious illness struck the country’s honeybee population in 2006, scientists struggled to understand how billions of honeybees disappeared from their hives, seemingly overnight.

The phenomenon is called colony collapse disorder. Researchers still aren’t sure how to stop it—and other factors like mites, climate change and urbanization—from devastating the world’s honeybee population, which has experienced a 50 percent drop in the past half century.

At Humboldt State, Economics instructor Brian Gross is looking for answers. Gross, who joined the department last fall, is one of a handful of experts working on the Bee Informed Partnership, a national study of honeybees and beekeeping sustainability funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over the next five years, Gross and a team of economists, entomologists, epidemiologists and agriculture experts will try to explain the decline.

It’s important work because of the critical role that honeybees play in the global food chain. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about $15 billion in U.S. crops—like apples, cranberries, melons and broccoli—benefit from honeybee pollination and one-third of every bite we eat is pollinated by honeybees. California-grown almonds—80 percent of the world’s supply—depend entirely on honeybee pollination. The almond industry brings bees from around the country to California’s Central Valley each spring, where they pollinate nearly 800,000 acres of almond orchards between Bakersfield and Red Bluff.

Last year, the Bee Informed Partnership conducted a census of U.S. beekeepers and currently, researchers are surveying beekeepers on issues like disease, colony mortality, pest control, labor costs and management decisions. The goal, Gross says, is to identify the best approaches to reduce honeybee losses and inform the people managing them.

“You have an industry that’s really important for food production and the fact of the matter is we don’t know a whole lot about it or how it works,” Gross says. “Moving forward, what type of policies do we need to implement to make sure we have a resilient, sustaining honeybee population and beekeepers managing it?”

FOR MORE INFORMATION on the Bee Informed Partnership, visit beeinformed.org.