Phillip Raines was never worried when honeybees began dying off a few years ago and abandoning their hives across the country. Colony collapse disorder was a new phenomenon that seemed to be killing off honeybee populations for no particular reason, but Raines said he knew his bees would be safe.
Phillip Raines was never worried when honeybees began dying off a few years ago and abandoning their hives across the country.
Colony collapse disorder was a new phenomenon that seemed to be killing off honeybee populations for no particular reason, but Raines said he knew his bees would be safe.
“We saw through what the issues were right away,” said Raines, who ranks as Illinois’ third-largest beekeeper while operating Raines Honey Farm in Davis. Keeping the populations healthy is vital to fruit and vegetable production. Experts say a third of everything we eat depends on honeybee pollination.
Fungus, viruses to blame
Raines has thought all along that bad or negligent beekeeping practices are behind the cause of CCD, and today his belief appears to be supported by research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No CCD case has ever been discovered in Illinois, according to state agriculture officials, and local beekeepers are taking precautions to keep it that way.
The USDA has released a report stating that CCD may be caused by a fungus and a group of viruses — something Raines believes comes from migratory bees being exposed to numerous chemicals and pesticides.
“It is too many chemicals in our society, and it is expressing the viruses,” Raines said. “The challenge with the viruses is, there is nothing to fix it. And the fungus that is affecting them, there is no cure for it if that is” what’s causing CCD.
“This is why, when I put hives out, I drive two miles around and talk to the farmers and find out what they are spraying and when they are spraying.”
Byron, Ill.-area beekeeper Jeff Ludwig likens CCD’s devastation of a colony to a sickness among children: “It’s like all the kids in school getting the flu at the same time.”
Ludwig said pesticide awareness is growing among beekeepers and is playing a big role in keeping colonies healthy.
“You are seeing a lot more organic things happening,” he said. “I have been trying real hard in the last five years to forgo using any chemicals. A lot of my customers are appreciating that, too.”
Illinois has about 1,400 registered beekeepers with about 20,000 colonies. Across the country, bees are used for various reasons.
“They provide surplus honey for folks who wish to sell honey to the public, they pollinate fruits and vegetables,” said Steve Chard, apiary inspection supervisor with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “About a third of the food we consume comes from plants pollinated by honeybees.”
Raines doesn’t blame produce suppliers for wanting to provide the best-looking products possible.
“When the average consumer goes shopping and they look at apples on the stand, if there is a blemish on the apple, they usually don’t buy it,” he said. “But if it is a perfect apple, then they buy it. But what they don’t recognize is how many chemicals were used to make that apple pretty.”
He would, however, like to see more done to limit the use of chemicals. “There are too many chemicals in our society, period. It has got to be reduced. But there has got to be better practices by beekeepers also. We are a part of the problem.”
Reach Rockford Register Star staff writer Matt Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1389.