James Pinsky: The buzz of agriculture

James Pinsky


Despite what Shakespeare wrote, to bee or not to bee was never the question, at least not to farmers.

If you want to eat things like apples, nuts, broccoli, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, celery, squash, cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and melons, you’ll need bees.

Meat eaters, milk drinkers, anyone wearing cow leather, bull riders and ice cream lovers should also give the next bee they see a polite head nod of thanks because not only do bees help keep us well-fed, they help keep a lot of our livestock’s stomachs from growling too by pollinating animal-feed crops.

Experts estimate the honey bee’s value to agriculture to the tune of more than $14 billion annually, which is not bad for one of America’s most popular European insect immigrants. Yes, honey bees aren’t native to the United States but good luck finding anyone regardless of their politics who wants to see our bumbling black and yellow friends deported. In fact, most folks I know not only want bees to stay, but are trying desperately to get populations to grow.

Since honey bees aren’t native to the United States, the honey bees we find out and about are classified as feral, and there’s not nearly enough of them to get the agriculture job done. This is especially true of the almond industry. Almond growers in California, which by the way produce 90 percent of the world’s almonds, don’t have enough feral bees to keep their trees pollinated. The farmers need more than a million bees to keep more than 420,000 acres of almond trees pollinated so they rely heavily on migratory bee keepers.

If you would like to know more about honey bees and other crucial pollinators, consider reaching out to a local beekeepers group. Nationwide, beekeepers have well-organized clubs, groups and, dare I say, colonies who are working hard to attract, maintain and protect local bee populations. Virginia has its own known as the Virginia State Beekeepers Association, and locally, we have the Shenandoah Valley Beekeepers Association out of Woodstock, and the Beekeepers of Northern Shenandoah, based in Winchester.

Please consider helping support our local beekeepers. After all, if we don’t embrace and encourage the sustainability of our local bee population, the sting of their loss will be the worst pain of all.

James Pinsky is the Education and Information Coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.