There is nothing more devastating to a beekeeper than to check on your hives and see nothing but dead bees on the ground. These days, we seem to be hearing these stories far too often and it is the exact scenario Idaho beekeepers are experiencing right now. Tony Kaneaster of the Kaneaster Apiary, stated, “It’s devastating. This is just totally devastating. They can’t pick up from something like this.”
Kaneaster took a journalist by some hives to prove his point. When they arrived, Kaneaster bent down and filled his hands with hundreds of dead bees. The area is windy and there is also significant wildlife in the area, so dead bees are not on the ground for very long. This was a “fresh” batch of dead bees the wind had not yet blown away and the skunks had not yet eaten.
Over the last few weeks, Kaneaster has lost six of his hives completely, with almost a dozen more being quickly depleted. The business, which is family-owned, is literally watching their future die right in front of them. The Kaneasters had planned on taking six dozen of their hives to California for almond season, but now they are not even sure their hives can make the journey to California, so it appears that opportunity is no longer viable. This will be a massive blow to their yearly income. Kaneaster stated, “I’m not even sure if I’m in business. We’ve got to have the bees or we aren’t going to eat.”
The Kaneaster Apiary was started more than five decades ago by Dave Kaneaster with only 1,000 hives. At its peak, the family had about 5,000 hives. Dave Kaneaster stated, “Five years ago, we took eight semi-loads of bees to California. The next year we took seven. The next year we took six and a half.” The 5,000 hives slipped to about 3,000 last year. The family figures they are going to be lucky to have 2,000 left by the time 2019 closes out.
Bee loss is just a part of the business, but not like this. The Kaneaster family simply has no idea why their bees are dying off so quickly and in such large numbers. Ten years ago, the norm was about 20 percent, now businesses like theirs are losing as much as 60 percent of their hives in a given year. Do the math… you simply cannot stay in business with that type of die-off every year.
While the Kaneasters are not completely sure what is killing their bees, they do have an idea based on what is going on with the dead bees they are finding. For instance, they often see headless bees and bees with their tongues out, which leads them to believe it is a combination of fungicides and pesticides being used to treat the crops their bees are pollinating. The fungicides hurt the immune system of the bee, allowing deadly mites to literally kill the bee from the inside out.
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture is investigating the problem, but they are only looking at from a disease standpoint and not checking for misuse of pesticides in the area. It is the equivalent of a coroner conducting an autopsy without actually opening up the body. The investigation is unlikely to give the Kaneasters the answers they need. Dave Kaneaster stated, “It’s been my life. What am I supposed to do now? Just retire? What are you going to retire on when your bees are all dead?”