Buzz About Bees: Southern Tier bees dying at rapid rates

BERKSHIRE (WBNG) — With bees dying at alarming rates in New York and across the country, it could have an impact on the food that goes on your plate. 

Tioga County beekeeper Bob Finch sees the sweet side of raising honeybees. At his business, Berkshire Hills Honey Bee Farm, he and his wife breed bees and produce honey. 

"Left my job working at Lockheed and IBM and decided that I’d had enough of that and started up our own business and its been a real learning experience," said Finch. 

Finch is carrying on his family legacy as the fifth generation to raise bees. He said a lot has changed since he first started in the 1970s. "The health of the bees, especially in New York State, was much better than it is now," he said. 

Finch’s bee farm is his livelihood. With bees dying at rapid rates, however, he wonders if it’s still sustainable. "Either I’m too foolish to get out.. or you’re so persistent and you’re so attached to your bees and what you do," he said. 

Emma Mullen monitors Finch’s apiary. She works for Cornell’s Bee Keeper Tech Team, a program born in 2016. "It was in response to these widespread unsustainable losses that bee keepers were experiencing in the state," said Mullen. She said since 2010, bee keepers in New York have lost between 42 and 68 percent of their colonies each year. 

There are still questions about why bees are dying, but Mullen said research shows high levels of parasites, viruses transmitted from mites and pesticides used on crops can be deadly to bees. "On average colonies have five different pesticides in them at one time," said Mullen. 

The declining bee population isn’t just a problem for bee keepers. Mullen said, "Honey bees are critical to our food system here in New York state…they’re pollinating at lot of the fruits and vegetables that we eat every single day."

Finch said this could change the choices you have for your next meal. "Bees pollinate 1/3 of the worlds food supply and that numbers not including what they pollinate for our livestock so it could be an impact on what the variety we have on our plates," he said.

Honey and bees are a lucrative industry in New York, According to Mullen, New York is typically within the top ten to top 15 states for honey production in the U.S. and for pollination services it’s estimated that they’re valued at 500 million dollars annually.

With a lot at stake, the pressure is on for beekeepers. In the past few years, most of Finch’s bees didn’t make it through the winter. "About 70 percent I lost," he said. But that was last year. This year he is only on track to lose about ten to 15 percent. A positive trend that could be related to work from experts like Mullen.

She monitors honey bee hives across New York state. "We’re taking samples on different parasites looking at how the queen looks how overall colony health looks seeing if there’s any noticeable pesticide issues," said Mullen. 

While its looking up for Finch, there is no real steady hope or outcomes so far as to why bees are dying. "It’s not one single cause that’s affecting bees," said Mullen. 

And when it comes to honey, there’s one battle local beekeepers just can’t fight. Finch said the sugary syrup you buy at the store labeled as honey, isn’t always the real deal. "The bottom line for commercial beekeepers is to make money but when you know there’s another country cheating, indoctrinating their honey with high fructose corn syrup even shipping it to other countries to get it past our borders here that all adds up," said Finch. 

In the meantime, Finch says the shop local movement is what keeps his business buzzing. He sells his bee products at the Ithaca Farmers Market. 

As for the bees, he’s hopeful. With a much better outlook for this year, Finch is confident that research and monitoring from Cornell is paying off. 

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