Aozotorp at aol.com Aozotorp at aol.com
Tue Aug 7 07:49:15 EDT 2001


Date: 010804
From: <A HREF="http://www.dailyrecord.com/">http://www.dailyrecord.com/</A>

By Matthew Katz, Daily Record, August 4, 2001

 Millions of workers toil in the state's farms and fields every day.
They do their job quietly, efficiently and without pay. And now, their
existence may be threatened.

 They are honeybees, responsible, experts say, for one out of every
three bites of food people eat.

 Their population recently has been besieged by two kinds of mites,
and last year their numbers in New Jersey dropped 60 percent -
threatening the size, shape, yield and cost of produce statewide.

 "If there's no bees, there's no food," said Grant Stiles, the
apiarist for the state Department of Agriculture. "Pollination affects
food and fiber. And that goes down to the gallon of milk, to the
cotton of the shirt on your back."

 The New Jersey bee industry, in conjunction with scientists, is
developing solutions to the mite plague, including artificial
insemination of more resistant bees and the use of organic chemicals
to kill the mites. But for now, beekeepers and fruit and vegetable
growers are feeling the sting.

 "The mites have affected the bees, and it has weakened the hives, so
we are very concerned about it," said Dennis Doyle, product specialist
at Atlantic Blueberry in Hammonton, the largest blueberry farm in the

 The two biggest crops in New Jersey, blueberries and cranberries,
require honeybee pollination.

 And the seeds of many vegetables, like alfalfa, cucumbers and onions,
also are produced through bee pollination.

 "Here in New Jersey, if you didn't have any honeybees, you wouldn't
have much of the produce the Garden State is known for," Stiles said.

 As other wild pollinators have been destroyed through the years,
honeybees, which aren't native to North America, have taken over a
wide variety of other plant pollination.

 Honeybees also are the sole source of honey and beeswax, and bee
venom is used in therapy to treat arthritis and other diseases of the
muscle, connective tissue and immune system.

 "The value of honeybees is not only that they make sweet honey," said
Professor Medhat Nasr, who recently was brought on by Rutgers
University to research solutions to the mite epidemic.

 Nasr, an extension specialist in apiculture who has had success in
Canada rectifying the mite infestation problem there, said $10 billion
to $15 billion a year are added to the value of crops pollinated by

 Doyle said his blueberry farm rents bees to help pollinate the
blueberries, and the cost of bee rental has increased recently with
the diminishing bee population.

 "By having weak colonies, or no colonies, the crop produce will be
affected and the cost of crop produce will be higher because farms
have to pay more money for beekeepers to bring in bees," Nasr said.

 If the honeybee population continues to decrease, Stiles said, "in
order to buy food the consumer would have to pay God knows how much
for an apple, or blueberries."

 But according to Doyle, his industry is awaiting a permanent cure for
the mite problem and is absorbing the extra costs for now.

 "We need to try to correct it from that end, versus taking it to the
consumer," Doyle said.

 Experts and farmers also say the size and shape of vegetables and
fruits would directly be affected by continued loss of the honeybee.

 "It's very important on a vegetable farm and orchard to have bees on
the farm to pollinate," said farmer Jeff O'Hara of Union Hill Farms in
Denville. He said without bees on his farm, he would have a reduction
in the yield of his plants and misshapen produce.

 Nine out of every 10 apples wouldn't even exist without honeybee
pollination, Stiles said.

 The tracheal mite, first found in the United States in 1984, lives
inside the bees' breathing tubes and feeds on its blood, said Nasr,
who has been working with Rutgers University in affiliation with the
New Jersey Beekeepers Association for three months.

 "It's easy for bees to be suffocated and killed," Nasr said. "We can
see more of this effect happening in northern states because it's
colder. Bees, they lose their ability to winter in colder climates. It
can affect their foraging activity to collect honey."

 The second mite affecting bees is the varroa mite, discovered in
1987. They develop and reproduce in the immature stages of development
and then suck blood from adult bees. They also cause secondary
infections, Nasr said.

 Since the mite plague began, bee colonies in the United States have
plummeted from 4.7 million to 2.5 million.

 The mites have grown resistant to older means of killing them. More
recently, an organic pesticide called Checkmite has been used to treat
hives after the honey harvest.

 Still, some beekeepers in New Jersey lost as many as 80 percent of
their bees last year.

 "The beekeeping industry has had to change and adopt new management
techniques to solve the problem," Nasr said.

 Nasr said he wants to educate beekeepers here with newer methods that
can kill the mites. He said formic acid can be applied to the hives to
kill more than 90 percent of the vermin.

 "Now we have more tools for managing the mites and controlling it,"
Nasr said. "And my main goal at this point is to bring all of these
tools together in a program to be applied by New Jersey beekeepers to
help them to save the honeybees."

 Nasr is also working on developing bees through artificial
insemination so day-old bees smell like adults. This would protect
them from verroa mites.

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has released two lines of
genetically resistant bees in the last two years.

 The Union Hill Farms market, located on Ayers/Knuth Farm off Route 10
in Denville, has 10 colonies of bees run by Pat Henderson, a beekeeper
with colonies throughout New Jersey. He sells and bottles his own pure
raw honey.

 Henderson said he no longer harvests honey twice a year because of
the dwindling bee population and the need to medicate his bee colony
for long periods of time with pesticide. Henderson lost 40 percent of
his bees last year.

 "Honeybees are the most important part of agriculture, but the most
overlooked," Stiles said. "The least amount of research is done on the
honeybee, the least amount of money is put into honeybee programs.
(But) that is what feeds the whole nation - through pollination."

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