Texas honey beekeepers say 2022 worst year for colony losses
AUSTIN, Texas – Bees aren’t just for making honey, these insects are among the most profitable workers in the United States, contributing at least $15 billion to the economy annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
However, bee populations have been in drastic decline for years.
What you need to know Bees contribute at least $15 billion to the US economy each year
Preliminary reports indicate that beekeepers lost about 39% of their bee colonies last year
Texas isn’t one of the worst states for bee colony loss, but it’s not the best either
Small beekeepers in Texas say 2022 was one of the worst years on record for colony loss
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the honey bee population has been in decline in the United States since the 1940s, going from a population of about six million to about 2.5 million today.
Lawmakers and environmental groups are drafting a bill to make the Texas landscape more pollinator-friendly.
For honey beekeepers like Tanya Phillips, help can’t come soon enough.
Phillips is the queen bee of Texas Bee Farm in Austin.
When she heard all the noise about bees dying, she wanted to do something about it.
“We started thinking, we need to save the bees, we need to educate people, we need to make better beekeepers, we need to help scientists,” Phillips said.
Twelve years later, Phillips has gone from conservation hobbyist to owning a full-fledged business with about 80-150 colonies.
But, says Phillips, after all these years of working with these tiny pollinators, her bee population hasn’t improved.
“This year has probably been the worst year,” she said.
She says severe cold and drought have killed hundreds of colonies in her area in the past four months.
The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) Loss and Management Survey shows that commercial beekeepers lost about 39% of their bee colonies from April 2021 to April 2022.
Smaller beekeepers like Phillips had far worse losses.
BIP’s preliminary report found that backyard beekeepers with fewer than 50 colonies had a record high colony loss rate of 58.5% in 2022. Sideliner beekeepers managing 51 to 500 colonies like Phillips also saw an increase.
“If they’re not killing each other, and if I’m not killing them, and the weather’s not killing them, you know, maybe they’ll make it,” she said.
The colony loss report found that Texas had an annual loss of 33.9% from April 2021 to April 2022. That’s not the worst compared to other states, but it’s not the best either.
Juliana Rangel directs the Texas Honey Bee Lab at Texas A&M University, which partners with the Bee Informed Partnership.
Rangel says the data is voluntarily reported, so it’s really just a snapshot of the problem, and participation isn’t always good.
Only 73 beekeepers provided data for the quarterly report from April to June in 2022, so the numbers are likely to be much higher.
But despite that, Rangel says the numbers are far higher than the acceptable bee colony loss, which is between 13% and 17%.
“We’re seeing losses that are double or even triple the number in the last 10 years, which is unacceptable,” Rangel said.
Parasites such as varroa mites are the biggest cause of colony loss, followed by colony collapse disorder, pesticides, disease and weather events.
A USDA report on honey bee colonies found that 45.2% of colonies from April to June 2022 were affected by varroa mites.
At this point, Rangel says beekeepers, scientists and researchers are doing all they can to replace colony losses instead of finding a solution.
“Because we are facing losses year after year, we are not able to increase the total number of colonies in the country,” Rangel said.
Phillips says she planted native wildflowers on her property to help with pollination, but with the recent drought they all died.
Now she drops pollen into trays for colonies that don’t have enough food for their hives.
“I have to buy whole new colonies just to replace my losses,” she said. “You’re spreading your resources too thin just to survive.”