Hey, If Bazillions of Honeybees Died, Why Is Fruit Still So Cheap?

Remember when everyone was freaking out over colony collapse disorder (CCD)? From 2007 to 2011, approximately one bazillion honeybees—about 30 percent of the population—bit the dust each winter for mysterious reasons. People were understandably worried, since honeybees help pollinate the fruits and veggies we eat.

People blamed everything from global warming to GMOs to cell phones to the latest, high fructose corn syrup

And then there was the doomsaying:

In 2007, then-Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns warned that “if left unchecked, CCD has the potential to cause a $15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses.”

But wait, the folks at the Property and Environment Research Center wondered

Particularly astute readers might...look at the prices of apples, pears, cherries, and blueberries and wonder why—in the face of impending doom—they can still afford to put these items in their children’s lunches and on their breakfast tables.

So economists Randal R. Rucker and Walter N. Thurman took a look at the pollination market. See, it turns out that farmers don't just wait for bees to show up whenever they darn please and do their thing. For many decades, farmers have been renting bees to get the job done. Beekeepers show up with their hives and plunk them down amongst the trees or bushes in the relevant location for a contractually agreed upon period of time. They then head off to the next crop. Almonds, say, then cherries, then raspberries, followed by onions, squash, and sometimes alfalfa in the Pacific Northwest.

honeybeesmccann / photo on flickr

What that means is that lots of people had a strong profit motive to get the bee population back up to snuff every spring. What's more, replacing a hive can be as simple as splitting a healthy hive and adding a new mated queen. New queens are cheap and the supply is very elastic. All of which adds up to: Pretty cheap and rapid bee replacement. 

The authors of the PERC paper estimates that in the end, a can of Smokehouse Almonds may cost 2.8 cents more due to colony collapse disorder. And almonds are one of the most bee-intensive agricultural products. 

Colony collapse disorder sounds pretty dire. But toss in a funcitoning market, and we still have plenty of blueberries for our breakfast cereal.

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  • Warrren||

    Whatever happened to those Zyklon bees?

  • Mongo||

    Ha - I just got this quip!

  • ||

    It was a real gas.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    WHORING OUT BEES? What's next for the "noble" farmer? Using migrant workers as a serf labor force?

  • UnCivilServant||

    I never bought into what whole noble farmer schitck. Either your playing in pig shit, or your paying someone to play in pig shit.*

    *or cow, or horse, or artificially constructed nitrate fertilizer

  • ||

    Beekeeping, like sex work, should always and only be done for the love of the job. Anytime it's done for money it's demeaning to all those involved--in this case the bees.

  • Warrren||

    Doing things for money is an offense to Gaia.

    Unless it's for a green project that's paid for by a sin or properly progressive income tax.

  • BlueBook||

    One of my fave scenes from the Discworld series involved a rapidly evolving super plant that needed to quickly pollinate itself, so it basically used its prehensile vines to tentacle-rape a passing fruit fly.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That fruit fly was asking for it.

  • ||

    What's Latin for STEVE SMITH?

  • SugarFree||

    GLUTUS FUCKSAMAX

  • JW||

    Beekeepers show up with their hives and plunk them down amongst the trees or bushes in the relevant location for a contractually agreed upon period of time. They then head off to the next crop. Almonds, say, then cherries, then raspberries, followed by onions, squash, and sometimes alfalfa in the Pacific Northwest.

    So, what intensive research into CCD missed, was what the same thing above that I saw on Modern Marvels. It was on almond farming, in case you had money on the subject matter.

  • ||

    In 2007, then-Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns warned that “if left unchecked, CCD has the potential to cause a $15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses.”

    Why was there a big worry about bugs dying. Seriously they are friggin bugs they breed and spread like friggin bugs!!!

    How long does it take to replace a collapsed colony? A week? 2 weeks?

    So in under a month you can not only replace the 30% loss but can probably double the original number.

    THEY ARE BUGS!!! And not only that they colony bugs!!!! So not only are they mindboggoling multiplying bugs they are mindboggoling multiplying colonizing bugs!!!!

  • Warrren||

    So what are you saying here?

  • ||

    I think he's been watching a lot of Starship Troopers.

  • AlmightyJB||

    My wife did not like that movie.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    You weren't supposed to like it. It was intended as a deconstruction of the "Space Marines" genre.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It was so much more than that Stormy. Truly a cinematic masterpiece.

  • ||

    Which Aliens invented and deconstructed that same movie genre 10 years before.

    Wait...maybe you are on to something. Starship Troopers imagined a military utopia where they were effective..

    Perhaps it was a reverse deconstruction construction of the space marine genre...

    But where does this place the Halo games?

  • BlueBook||

    You disapprove? Well, too bad! We're in this war for the species, boys and girls. It's simple numbers. They have more.

  • Hugh Akston||

    We'll be going in on the first wave. That just means more bugs to kill. And you will shoot anything that has more than two legs, do you get me?

  • Agammamon||

    Aggressively Hegemonizing Swarms - the bees seek to turn everything into more bees!

  • ||

    To be honest i think the whole thing is complete bullshit.

    Bugs have cycles. One year you will have a crap load of spiders around your house then the next none....same with flies and mosquitos and ants and butterflies...whatever.

    With Bees i am guessing is that scientists finally got around to systematically studying their populations and noticed "By gosh some years they die off!!!!"

    I mean how do we know this didn't happen 50 years ago? or 100 years ago? or throughout friggin the 100s of millions of years of bee history?

    This is just like when mammograms came out. Doctors finally had a great way to discover breast cancer and suddenly we had a breast cancer epidemic!!!

    Check out any chart of diagnosed breast cancer over time and amazingly you will see a huge jump at the same time mammograms became widely used.

    Of course the cancer rate didn't change...only thing that changed is they started finding cancer where they use to not look. People die before the cancer spreads or the cancer spread so slowly it never was a problem or the mammogram showed grey area false positives...could be bad cancer, could be nothing...better to diagnose it as cancer to be sure.

    and so we had a huge jump in cancer rates even though it was only a change in diagnosis technology.

  • SKR||

    It doesn't take a fancy new diagnostic tool for some guy who has been a beekeeper for 50 years to notice he is having 50% greater dieoff each year.

  • ||

    It does take pretty fancy communication equipment to know how every bee keeper in the world is doing.

    You should also notice how whenever this is talked about you never get good data about where and when or how this is happening.

    It is all just general with anecdotes thrown in. ("my bees they are dying!!!" says farmer ted, pollinating pears in china by hand. ect)

    Everything about this stinks to high heaven with the scenario i mentioned above.

    Hysteria, end of world predictions, general worldwide threat, no comparison with the past, ambiguous humans are to blame environmentalist crap, in the face of past larger environmental destruction in the early 1900s with no recorded bee deaths, in the face of 50+ years of pesticides use some far more bee killing then today's pesticides yet no recorded bee deaths. no data on specific ares where it is happening, where it is not happening. no data on when it is happening in the year when it is not happening in a year. is it sudden? does the die off happen months weeks days? Who the fuck knows? Why the fuck don't we know? Oh never mind...lets talk about global warming and cell phones instead.

  • SKR||

    you are conflating doomsday predictions from dipshit environmental activists with a much more moderate scientific understanding of a real phenomenon.

  • ||

    Also it is probably pretty easy to find an orchardist, wheat farmer cattleman whatever who had 50 great years and then suddenly.

    "half my crops/cattle died"

    Another thing that is similar to tales of catastrophic doom.

    30 years ago we worried about killer bees....now we worry they are all dying.

    Kind of like how 30 years ago we worried about global cooling now we worry about global warming.

  • SKR||

    and if every cattleman had half his cattle die every year for a decade, wouldn't they be looking for a solution instead of just saying that it's natural and not a problem?

  • Zeb||

    "They are bugs" sounds intuitively appealing, but it isn't much of an argument. There are regions of China where pollinating insects have been so reduced by pollution that people pollinate pears by hand. It can happen.

    Thy hysteria was overblown, certainly. As usually happens some smart sounding people failed to account for the fact that people adapt to changing conditions. Nevertheless, CCD is something that people would be wise to try to understand better as loss of pollinators would be a big fucking deal even if the worst case scenarios are kind of ridiculous.

  • SKR||

    The problem in China wasn't pollution. It was because of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, over harvesting of honey, and a reliance on wild bees. If they dialed back the pesticide use and moved to a commercial bee model like in the US, they wouldn't have to pollinate by hand anymore. But I hear serfs come pretty cheap.

  • ||

    "They are bugs" sounds intuitively appealing, but it isn't much of an argument. There are regions of China where pollinating insects have been so reduced by pollution that people pollinate pears by hand. It can happen.

    I am guessing this has happened in China and the rest of the world for 10,000 years.

    There are plenty of famines in world history that defy explanation...bees randomly dying off would fit nicely.

    By the way how did a bunch of farmers in China even know that pollination is even important? If it has never been a problem before now how would they ever know a solution?

  • SKR||

    out of curiosity, does that special ed helmet you must be wearing chafe much?

  • ||

    Yeah sure I am stupid because i question general world destroying catastrophes of unknown causes reported in the news.

    You have to be of the smart people to just eat this stuff up without question.

    Cuz you know general world destroying catastrophes of unknown causes reports have always been so very very correct in the past.

  • ||

    a reliance on wild bees

    More specifically i say the same thing you did:

    I am guessing this has happened in China and the rest of the world for 10,000 years.

    There are plenty of famines in world history that defy explanation...bees randomly dying off would fit nicely.

    By the way how did a bunch of farmers in China even know that pollination is even important? If it has never been a problem before now how would they ever know a solution?

    ...and you call me retarded.

  • Warrren||

    He didn't call you retarded per se just accused you of a bad fashion choice.

  • SKR||

    yes because farmers have known bees are important for pollination for a long long time and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that a tree with no fruit and a lack of bees miht be related.

  • Brandybuck||

    Yes, it makes sense to study the problem and figure out what's causing it. Something the bee industry is undoubtedly doing. In the meantime there's no reason to shit your pants in public over the issue. Which many handwringers were doing.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    These post-Stalinist collectivists love bugs. They love bedbugs and have set about to preserve the bedbug through lowering water heater and dryer temperatures, along with banning any chemical that might kill a bedbug. In this they have been successful.

    They want to preserve the potato weevil too, and have waged a successful campaign against Monsanto, and did it without any new regulations.

    Now they want to kill any progress in producing abundant, inexpensive food to preserve bees.

    Bon appetit

  • BlueBook||

    You just know DARPA is already working on bee-size hunter/killer drones, so we might as well make a civilian version to tend the crops. Swords to plow shares and all that.

  • Brett L||

    What's up with the racial slur next to Beyonce?

  • Hyperion||

    And then there was the doomsaying

    If there's one thing that you can always count on from progs and eco nuts, it's that there will be some doomsaying.

  • Paul.||

    For many decades, farmers have been renting bees to get the job done. Beekeepers show up with their hives and plunk them down amongst the trees or bushes in the relevant location for a contractually agreed upon period of time.

    To be fair, isn't it these very beekeepers who are suffering from Colony Collapse as well?

    I liked the Cell phone theory. Not because I believed it, but because I love telling a progressive that his iPhone 5 is killing mother gaia.

  • SKR||

    absolutely, they have much higher overhead now.

  • Matrix||

    If it were left up to socialists, these problems would never bee solved! Market forces find ways to solve these problems.

  • BlueBook||

    Come to think of it, which human socio-political-economic paradigm should bees and other colony insects be classified under? Monarchism and Communism are often mentioned, but I could see an argument for Separatist Feminism (most bees are female, though only the queen is fertile, and males live only for a quick mating flight).

  • Mongo||

    Bee fois gras has gotten much more expensive, you gotta admit.

  • Mongo||

    Goddamn I'd love to bend Beyonce over a hot stove....

  • Gladstone||

    But I can't see the stove.

  • Calidissident||

    I'm sure you'll like this

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMok-RBgj1I

    Say what you want about Jay-Z, but the due is one lucky SOB

  • Calidissident||

    *dude

  • Gladstone||

  • Paul.||

    Why are all those guys wearing orange speed suits in that movie, The Swarm?

    Man, some of the shit that went on in the 70s made no sense.

  • Paul.||

    OT: Woman with Arab-ey sounding name tries to place two tainted OJ bottles in Starbucks open-air refrigerator. Charged with attempted murder.

    Lawmakers contemplating making open-air refrigerators illegal.*

    *ok, I made that last one up.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/n.....ngxml.html

  • johnl||

    How could a victim fail to notice that he was choking down rubbing alcohol, long before he had a lethal dose? This was a pretty feble effort.

  • PapayaSF||

    Names that end in -ian are usually Armenian.

  • Paul.||

    *nods knowingly*

  • ||

    Also, we have been importing honeybees from Australia and other places.

    So the honeybee farmers have been losing a lot of money, because they keep having to replace their colonies, but they have been keeping up with demand from fruit farmers.

    There are some impacts. Rising prices for authentic honey and a subsequent scandel involving fake chinese honey has spawned a cottage industry of backyard beekeeping amoung hipsters.

    But I was never under the impression that honeybees were about to go extinct. Sooner or later, natural selection would take hold and the surviving bees would be robust or immune to whatever disease or toxin was affecting them.

  • Tony||

    And if not, some other pollinator will eventually fill the ecological niche in a thousand years or so. Life finds a way! Do nothing.

  • ||

    We're talking about a species that goes through a generation in a matter of months to a year, and reproduces by the thousands, not by produces offspring by the thousands not by the ones or twos.

    bacteria can evolve anti-biotic
    resistance in a few weeks. Weeds have evolved herbicide resistance in a matter of years.
    I have no doubt that bees can evolve disease resistance in a few years too.
    ESPECIALLY if 90% of a population is decimated by it.

  • Tony||

    What if it's not disease? And what if it were 100% mortality?

  • ||

    You're not even trying anymore are you?

  • Jason S.||

    Another example of clever business is the use of
    essential oils as a preventive measure.

    http://www.capitalpress.com/co.....032513-art

    Apparently the oils works for that beekeeper - and other beekeepers buy the product as well. Sorta funny to hear him say that he hopes the colony disorder continues so that he can make more money with his healthy bees. I'm surprised that he doesn't work for the greedy Koch Industries.

  • BuSab Agent||

    I thought they'd solved that mystery.

  • Jason S.||

    Australia has the healthiest bee colonies on the planet, but they use more pesticide than the US.

    Varro mites could be another reason for the deaths.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jo.....-deaths/2/

    Bee collapses were a grave concern in Britain a 100 year's ago.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    Did anyone check the mountain of sugar? To the Beemobile!

  • Robert||

    I just learned this past weekend from a bee man that all the honey bees in Norht America are domesticated -- that they were never able to survive in this habitat without human help. I had no idea.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    There are some feral colonies descended from domestic bees. But that wild population is continually replenished with new swarms from backyard hives. The population probably would dwindle if the supply of new bees were cut off.

    If I haven't been misinformed, that's what stopped those 'killer bees' you no longer hear about. Once they got to the US border, they pretty much ran out of suitable habitat.

  • ||

    Africanized bees have issues surviving harsh winters since they are more likely to abandon their hive and not have adequate stores of food.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I once read (I think it was in National Geographic) that almond farmers have to pay a lot more for their bees, because the honey made from almond nectar is no good.
    The best honey is supposed to come from orange and clover (you'll sometimes see it printed right on the label), so I assume those farmers get them really cheap.

  • WomSom||

    Lets go hit them up one time now. Wow.

    www.GoGetAnon.tk

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