Colony Collapse Disorder: Another reason for optimism

The number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States rose to 2.46 million in 2009 (see the just-released USDA honey report). That’s more than in 2005, the last full year before CCD struck, and more than in 2006 when CCD was first reported. I’ve summarized USDA data on colony count, per-colony yield, and honey production in the table below.

US Honeybee Colonies And Honey Production
Year Production (millions) Producing Colonies Yield
2005 174 lb (79 kg) 2.41 million 72.4 lb (32.8 kg)
2006 155 lb (70 kg) 2.39 million 64.7 lb (29.3 kg)
2007 148 lb (67 kg) 2.44 million 60.8 lb (27.6 kg)
2008 161 lb (73 kg) 2.30 million 69.9 lb (31.7 kg)
2009 144 lb (65 kg) 2.46 million 58.5 lb (26.5 kg)

Colony Collapse Disorder is real, we don’t know what causes it or how to treat it, and it’s causing losses and hardship for beekeepers. But each passing year of stable colony counts, this is the fourth, is another reason for optimism that CCD is not threatening our honey supplies or pollination capacity. News media coverage seems to be moving away from the shrill cries of “disappearance” and “extinction”, as in this ABC report on the declining incidence and severity of CCD over the 2008/2009 winter.

I make a lot of mead and buy honey in bulk. I’d like to keep doing that, so I’ve been following the CCD phenomenon ever since I heard about it. I’m also interested in production and and the outlook for honey prices. From that perspective, the rest of the honey report is a good news/bad news story.

More honeybees but less honey in 2009

In 2008 we saw managed colonies decline, but per colony yield and total honey production rise. 2009 gave us a mirror image of that with the number of colonies rebounding but producing less honey. Much less. In fact per colony yield was the lowest since 1989 and total US honey production was the lowest ever. That’s the bad news. The good news is that lower production didn’t lead to higher prices.

Honey prices up a bit, inventories down a lot

Producer honey stocks fell to 37.2 million pounds (16.9 million kg), down from 50.4 million pounds (22.9 million kg)a year ago – a 27% decline. My own honey price survey showed no change in 2009, and the USDA’s “all honey” price was up 2% to 144.5.

Revisions of 2008 data

It looks like the USDA has revised some of it’s 2008 data this year. The all honey price was originally reported to be 141.0 in the 2008 honey report, but is said to have increased from 142.1 in the 2009 report. Also, the number of producing honeybee colonies was originally reported to be 2.30 million at the end of 2008, but are said to have risen by 5% to 2.46 million at the end of 2009. The USDA does not provide a new figure for the 2008 colony count, but 2.46 million is about 7% higher than 2.30 million. So it looks like honey prices rose more, and the colony count fell less, than first reported in 2008. Since the USDA was not explicit about all these revisions, I use the data as reported in my table. After all, the 5% figure or the 142.1 could have been typos.

Further reading

The ABC news story that I mentioned was based on A survey of honey bee colony losses in the United States, fall 2008 to spring 2009.

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2 thoughts on “Colony Collapse Disorder: Another reason for optimism

  1. Kerry

    Has anyone been mixing breeds like African and Euro/American bees? I had read about a theory that domesticated bees had become “weaker” due to breeding docile characteristics. Therefore, maybe some natural defenses of domesticated bees may have contributed to the CCD.
    Of course I would never underestimate the power of mankind to destroy bees with habitat destruction and use of destructive neurotoxic petroleum based pesticides.

    Still, it does make sense to cross-breed bees to make them more hearty.

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