We share tidbits from past issues to provide a little perspective on the industry; the issues we’re facing today often are the same as those we slogged through years—decades—ago.
From the November 1, 1994, issue:
To Bee or Not To Bee
Growers whose crops bear ornamentally significant fruit still have reason to be concerned about the shortage of domestic bees. A number of factors have limited the wild honeybee population in the past 50 years: growing urbanization, hive destruction, pesticide use and the scarcity of clover and wildflowers. More recently bees have also fallen victim to parasitic varroa and tracheal mites.
The shortage has had significant consequences for the nearly $10 billion pollination industry. Beekeepers, who still supply many US growers, are feeling the pinch of phased-out federal honey subsidies. They’ve also been hampered by quarantines used to protect against Africanized honeybees.
Until recently, growers who used beekeeper services did not have to pay for the bees, since beekeepers could make enough from honey sales to justify moving the bees for free. But new pressures on beekeepers, including increasing foreign honey imports, are prompting more apiarists to sell pollination services. With wild honeybee populations on the decline, growers will have little choice but to pay the new fees.
In response to the honeybee shortage, some growers are using other kinds of bees to pollinate crops. US Agriculture Research Service scientists are studying the use of pollen bees. Pollen bees do not pollinate as many plants as honeybees, and they produce little wax and honey. But they are more manageable than honeybees and will not mate with volatile Africanized bees. They’re also more plentiful; of the more than 20,000 known bee species, only six are honeybees—the rest are pollen bees.
Like honeybees, pollen bees don’t live entirely threat-free lives. Parasitic “cuckoo bees,” which make up 15 percent of all bee species, replace host eggs with their own eggs. Just as cuckoo birds deplete songbird populations, cuckoo bees reduce populations of pollinator bees.
Bees can also fall victim to agricultural chemicals. James E. Tew, an entomologist at The Ohio State University’s Agricultural Research and Development Center, says growers should take care to prevent bees from coming into contact with potentially harmful pesticides. Tew says most of the commercial insecticides used in crop production can hurt bees in the spraying area. He advises growers to keep pollination contractors informed about spraying and to communicate with contractors about how to minimize hive loss.
Illegal Immigration Becomes Political Hot Button
Illegal immigration has become a key issue in the California elections and has drawn political attention in a number of other states, including Florida, New Jersey, Virginia and Illinois. The overall public sentiment against immigration, legal and illegal, seems to be growing. According to a survey conducted by the Times Mirror Center for People and the Press, fewer Americans believe the government should take care of those who cannot provide for themselves. A majority of respondents (82 percent, up six points from 1992) also said that people coming to the US to live should be restricted and controlled more than they are now.
The chief complaint against illegal immigration is that it costs states too much. According to a study conducted for the Justice Department by the Washington, DC-based Urban Institute, seven states together spend more than $4 billion each year educating, incarcerating and providing medical services for illegal immigrants. But the study also notes that states inflate their costs and points out that they collect $1.9 billion in state and local taxes from illegals.
Despite these discrepancies, the study seems to back up state governments’ claims about the burden of illegals. Although the federal government has taken steps to help states deal with the costs (the recently signed crime bill, for example, contains a provision for $130 million for the incarceration of illegals), governors say it’s not enough. California and Florida have even sued the federal government to recover costs for providing social services to undocumented immigrants.