In 1872, a merchant ship called the Mary Celeste set sail from New York, and four weeks later was found by sailors aboard another vessel to be moving erratically in the Atlantic Ocean 400 miles east of the Azores. Curious, those sailors boarded the Mary Celeste, only to find nary a soul. The cargo was intact, as were supplies of food and water. But there was no sign of the seven-man crew, the captain, or his wife and daughter, who had gone along for the journey. To this day, what turned that brigantine into a ghost ship remains a maritime mystery.
It was with a nod to this history that when bees suddenly and mysteriously began disappearing en masse in Britain several years ago, the phenomenon came to be known there as Mary Celeste Syndrome. Beekeepers in this country were similarly plagued. Honeybees, those versatile workhorses of pollination, were vanishing by the millions. They would leave their hives in search of nectar and pollen, and somehow never find their way home. On this side of the Atlantic, though, the flight of the bees was given a more prosaic name: colony collapse disorder.
What caused it remains as much of a head-scratcher as the fate of the Mary Celeste, but the serious consequences for American agriculture were clear. And thus it draws the attention of this week’s Retro Report, part of a series of video documentaries examining major news stories from the past and analyzing what has happened since.
The centrality of bees to our collective well-being is hard to overstate. They pollinate dozens of crops: apples, blueberries, avocados, soybeans, strawberries, you name it. Without honeybees, almond production in California would all but disappear. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly one-third of everything that Americans eat depends on bee pollination. Billions of dollars are at stake each year for farmers, ranchers and, of course, beekeepers.
October 7, 2014Robert Ito, The Maui News
Called a moratorium, the initiative is really a farming ban.
I have been farming on Maui for 40 years. Among the crops I have grown are head cabbage, Chinese cabbage, romaine lettuce, head lettuce, kale, Maui onions, bell peppers and genetically modified organism sweet corn. All of my crops have been sold to consumers on Maui and around the state.
I started farming in 1974. Many of the farms that were in existence then are now gone. Farming is hard work, and the cost of production increases each year, along with challenges when it comes to water, invasive insects and the weather.
I have grown both conventional and GMO corn. My experience is that the GMO corn used no insecticides, less water and produced a higher yield than the conventionally grown corn. One hundred percent of my conventional corn had corn earworms. The GMO corn contains a Bt gene that kills the corn earworm when it consumes the corn. Bt is the same organic insecticide used in organic farming and that is sprayed on the plants.
I would like to see more young people enter farming of all types. Our agriculture and ranching are as diverse as Maui, and we produce a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and meats. But I fear that many young people will not choose life as a farmer if they are going to come under attack for practices they do not employ or have to answer charges and criticism that are not correct.
Seattle's Action on Honeybees Scientifically Calibrated to Help Politicians, Not Bees
September 26, 2014
Environmental policy provides numerous examples where trendy politics and ignorance trump sound science. The City of Seattle's latest action to protect honeybees is just the latest example.
Taking a step called "very conservative," the City of Seattle announced it will no longer use a class of pesticides called neonicitinoids. The resolution, which is boilerplate language from other cities, claims:
An independent review of more than 800 scientific studies concluded that neonicotinoids are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.
None of that, however, is true.
As a beekeeper, I've paid attention to the question of neonics from both a policy and personal standpoint. I had never seen any science calling neonics a "key factor" in honeybee decline. I asked Councilmember Mike O'Brien's office to provide the study cited in the resolution.