Honeybees and Agriculture
How to ensure a fruitful collaboration
The unexplained rise in honeybee deaths has become an issue of great concern. As honeybees are one of the most important pollinators for wild plants and crops, they are closely linked to both agriculture and biodiversity.
Since 1961, there has been a 45 per cent rise in the managed honeybee population worldwide. Nonetheless, in recent years a number of beekeepers have experienced serious bee losses in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
In Europe, a number of beekeepers have witnessed unusually high bee colony losses during winter since the 1990s. Reliable surveys have estimated colony losses of 5 to 35 per cent in the period 2002 to 2010, with a peak during the 2002/03 winter. Losses of around 10 per cent would have been considered normal previously. In COUNTRY X, we have faced losses of around xy per cent on average in the past xy years.
Several interlinked factors can be blamed ...
There is a growing belief that interacting factors, including parasites, diseases, nutrition, beekeeping practices, weather patterns and genetics may be challenging the survival of bees.
Parasites and viruses can spread easily in today’s highly connected world. Both Varroa destructor (a parasitic mite and vector of viruses) and Nosema spp.(a parasitic fungus) weaken the immune system and health of bees. As a result, many viruses - previously not known to cause any illness symptoms in bees - have become fatal.
The limited genetic diversity of honeybees - bred from a limited number of lines to become less aggressive and more productive - may also affect immunity. For example, it is estimated that the entire honeybee population of the United States can be traced to 500 queens..
Modern farming has also reduced the variety of pollens within the agricultural landscape, impacting bee diet. New stress factors have been created by the bees' changing environment as commercial pollination requires beekeepers to transport hives over long distances to foreign environments while confined in close proximity to each other.
Climate change can be considered to be another factor, causing harsher winters and wetter springs in Europe. Young bees that survive these conditions often have impaired health.
The role of crop protection products
According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and on the basis of long-term studies in Germany and France, any correlation between winter losses of honeybee colonies and pesticide presence is rare. However, the discussion is on going and close investigation is required.
Separately, there have been occasional reports of bee poisoning, caused by the mismanagement of crop protection products.
BASF works closely with partners to investigate suspected pesticide impacts as well as helping to minimize the misuse of crop protection products.