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


beyonce dressed like a bee

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.

smccann / 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.