The unexpected rise of bee populations in the US: a closer look

After a decidedly disastrous year, 2023, the number of bees registered in the United States recorded a clear growth. But what is this boom due to? And is it really there?

After nearly two decades of relentless decline and a particularly dismal year in 2023, when honeybee colonies were virtually halved, the United States appears to be witnessing a remarkable turn of events: a historic surge in the bee population. But what’s behind this sudden boom?

A surprising boom

According to the 2022 agriculture census data, nearly a million new bee colonies were formed over the last five years, bringing the total number of colonies to an all-time high of 3.8 million. This record comes after nearly 20 years of colony collapse, a period during which bees died due to exposure to toxic pesticides, stress from cross-country transit to pollinate crops, invasive parasites, and changes in their habitats.

However, even with the formation of new colonies, the threat of their collapse remains a very real danger, raising numerous questions. One of the most pressing is: Is there really a bee boom?

The Washington Post cites state legislation offering tax breaks to beekeepers and the country’s need for pollinators as factors contributing to busier hives. However, it’s not all good news. Domesticated, or managed, bees also pose a looming threat to other natural pollinators vulnerable to extinction.

By cross-referencing agriculture census data with the annual honey report, The Washington Post reveals a contrasting picture. The honey report, which focuses on operations with five or more hives, shows bee colonies are actually losing ground, suggesting that the census, which includes all farms in the country, may count more hobbyists and amateurs aiming to become farmers.

What’s happening to the bees in the United States?

One significant factor seems to be tax breaks. State legislation providing tax incentives to beekeepers, based on the idea that by caring for and raising bees, they help pollinate surrounding crops and farms, has played a crucial role. In Texas, for instance, the law offers tax breaks to people who own between five and twenty acres of land if they raise bees for five years, a measure adopted by all 254 counties.

With more than 271,000 colonies, Texas now ranks third in the number of colonies, behind California, with over 1.3 million colonies, and Florida, with about 318,900 colonies.

However, not all these beekeepers produce honey on the scale measured by the census, which could explain the lesser growth reported in honey production. Census data shows that the number of bee colony operations has increased much faster than honey production, by about 160% since 2007.

The takeaway? Pollination—not honey prices—has been the real driver of the modern beekeeping industry.

According to a Rutgers University study, most of the world’s crops depend on honeybees and wild bees for pollination. In the United States, apple, cherry, and blueberry yields have already been reduced due to a lack of pollinators, the study found. It also shows that adopting practices that preserve wild bees, such as raising gardens of wildflowers and pollinators in addition to simple honeybees, is likely to improve yields.

But an increase in domestic bees is not necessarily good for wild ones. Domestic bees can compete for resources with wild pollinators, such as butterflies, beetles, moths, and wild bees, and over 40% of these species are already at risk of extinction in the coming decades. Additionally, about 28% of North American bees are considered threatened species.

Therefore, the era of bee colony collapse is not behind us. Many factors, primarily climate change, still pose significant threats. Global warming leads to a longer and warmer autumn season, which is literally stressing the bees. This is one of the many reasons why colonies continue to actually decrease.

Condividi su Whatsapp Condividi su Linkedin