Colony Collapse Disorder: No big deal?

My “unprediction” lands close to the mark

Last May, I was trying to make sense of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and the effect it might have on honey prices. I started with the annual honey report for 2006 published by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistical Service. I combined that with what I knew about CCD, like the 25% loss of honeybee colonies, and a little optimism. That led me to a number, there were too many variables to call it a “prediction,” that I thought would be closest to US honey production in 2007. My number was -2.6%, which doesn’t sound all that great, but compared to the talk of honeybee extinction, followed by mankind’s demise three years later, it was positively giddy. The 2007 honey report just came out, and the actual number was -4%. Not a bad “unprediction,” if I do say so myself! Here’s what the rest of the report said:

Honey production down slightly in 2007

Honey production fell in the United States by 4% to 148 million pounds (about 67 million kg), honey stocks held by producers fell 13% to 52.5 million pounds(24 million kg), and the number of producing colonies rose 2% to 2.44 million. A higher number of colonies and lower production imply a lower yield per colony: 60.8 pounds (27.6 kg) compared to 64.7 pounds (29.4 kg) in 2006.

Number of honeybee colonies stable for two years

I’ve been wondering, since last May, if we’d see a large decline in managed honeybee colonies. The NASS report’s answer is very encouraging: After falling 1% in 2006 to 2.39 million, they rose 2% in 2007 to 2.44 million colonies. It’s as though CCD didn’t happen at all! It did happen, of course, and may still be happening right now. But if, in the teeth of CCD, the number of producing colonies remains stable for two years, then I think there’s reason for optimism. Beekeepers might be frantic, and under financial stress, and growers might be panicky, but I think the beekeeping industry is proving to be very resilient. I’m becoming increasingly confident that growers will have uninterrupted access to pollination services and meadmakers, like you and I, will have access to honey at good prices. We may even find that CCD fades away, just like virtually-identical die offs of the past, without us ever discovering the cause.

Update 3/9/2009: Honeybees hang in there for another year

The 2008 Honey Report indicated that managed colonies in the US fell by only 6%. Honey production and per colony yield rose. It’s looking more and more like Colony Collapse Disorder is not a catastrophe.

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2 thoughts on “Colony Collapse Disorder: No big deal?

  1. On a Limb with Claudia

    Hiya Erroll,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    I’m a bit fascinated with your statistics and ideas as they don’t match any of the testimony at the US Senate hearings. Testimony from every expert stated that CCD was seen in all native pollinators and that native pollinators were harder hit than honey bees because they didn’t have keepers. In fact, there is a new movement to try to keep the Mason Bee from extinction.

    The statistics also don’t match my experience. Last year at this time of year, my bee supplier said that his customers were running 10% survival – that means that 90% of bees were dying. I also know the large bee havers here in Colorado were running about 40% survival last March. So I wonder where your statistics come from. It’s odd to me that there can be such disparity.

    Bee Culture, the bee keeping magazine, also states that CCD is a real phenomena. They give CCD statistics every single month. It’s their opinion that I site in my post – that it’s more likely a mix of the meds and the diseases plus the pesticides. Further, the National honey board (which is run here in Colorado) speaks to the decline in bees particularly in places like the California almond fields. That’s not to mention the decline of bees in France, China, Australia, the entire UK, Canada and other countries of the world – not just the US.

    Finally, if you’ve ever opened a CCD hive, you’d know that it was real. It’s like walking into your house – there’s hot cup of coffee on the table, a lit cigarette burning and no one home. Very twilight zone.

    That’s a long winded way of saying, “What?”

  2. Erroll Post author

    Hi Claudia,

    Colony Collapse Disorder is destroying colonies

    CCD is real, though you should take figures like “up to 90% losses” with a pinch of salt. Yes, some beekeepers have been hit that hard, others less so, and some not at all. So while it’s not false, the important bit is the “up to,” not the “90%.” The last figures I saw indicated that CCD claimed about 25% of hives across the US.

    But the total number of colonies is not declining

    When I said, “It’s as though CCD didn’t happen at all!” That was meant to underscore the good news in the number of producing honeybee colonies, not to literally say it didn’t happen. In fact, the very next sentence reads, “It did happen, of course, and may still be happening right now.” So CCD is happening and destroying hives, but the statistics on managed colonies are also good data. They come from the annual Honey Report published by the USDA, and you can follow the links to the 2006 and 2007 reports yourself.

    Because beekeepers are making up their losses

    So, how is it that CCD is destroying colonies, but there is no overall decline in the number of colonies for two years running? The answer is that beekeepers, who experience losses every year from disease, cold, and starvation, were able to rebuild their colonies. Seeing the industry hang in there like that gives me confidence that they will survive CCD.

    Does that clear things up?


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