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Pesticides may play role in loss of bees

By Katie Demeria

Scott Currie of Toms Brook Busy Bee has seen firsthand how beekeeping has changed.

Several years ago, Currie said he used to spend time with his mentor, a longtime beekeeper, who would keep up to 500 hives.

"It was quite simple to have bee colonies, and that's really changed," Currie said. "In the springtime, there's a higher likelihood of finding a dead hive than there ever was before."

Throughout the winter, he pointed out, each colony sees about a 30 to 35 percent loss -- meaning three out of 10 hives do not survive.

The difficulties beekeepers are facing could be caused by various factors, Currie pointed out, such as poor nutrition or a lack of a heat source during the winter.

Recently, pesticides and their impacts on pollinators has received more attention. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a news release in which Virginia residents were urged to read labels before using a pesticide to ensure that the substance does not kill honey bees.

"Virginia, as well as much of the rest of the United States, is experiencing dramatic losses in honey bees," the release stated.

Currie pointed out that the neonicotinoids within pesticides are possibly impacting the bees' navigation, food gathering abilities, queen rearing, and other aspects of the colony.

"And that can impact whether a hive lives or dies," he said.

It is still unclear whether or not pesticides are responsible for the dramatic losses in the bee population.

But Currie said many take issue with the fact that much of the research used by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether or not a pesticide is safe is conducted by the companies manufacturing the products.

Pesticides can make their way into a bee's life even if a plant has not been sprayed. Currie said neonicotinoids can be on a seed, for example, and when the plant matures it will have the substance in its nectar.

People can play a role in preventing the loss of bees by refraining from uing harmful products.

"A lot of the labels now will say 'highly harmful to honey bees,' and if someone is concerned about it, if they are sensitive to the issue, then maybe they will decide it is something they do not want to use," he said.

To learn more about Toms Brook Busy Bee, or to purchase local honey, email Currie at sscurrie@yahoo.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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