Ethonomic Indicator of the Day: $14.6 billion—the value of bees to the U.S. agricultural system.
First, the bad news: Honeybees have been dropping dead in record numbers for the past five years. Honeybees pollinate 80% of all insect-pollinated plants consumed by humans; their direct value to U.S. agriculture is over $14.6 billion. But don't start hoarding canned goods quite yet, the bees aren't ascending to heaven en masse. The (sort of) good news: The same amount of honeybees are dying every year. In a world where bee death is an accepted fact, a lack of increase in bee death is something to be celebrated.
Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that first showed up in 2006, is characterized by honeybees disappearing for no discernible reason. There is lots of speculation, but no definitive answer, as to the cause. Cell phone signals, pesticides, air pollution, and climate change are just some of the factors that may be conspiring to kill the bees.
Now, at least, we know the problem isn't getting any worse. This year's colony losses of 30% are similar to the past few years. Beekeepers reported losses of between 29% and 34% in each winter going back to 2006, when the problem first showed up. Should we be relieved?
"The lack of increase in losses is marginally encouraging in the sense that the problem does not appear to be getting worse for honey bees and beekeepers," said Jeff Pettis, an entomologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service, in a statement. "But continued losses of this size put tremendous pressure on the economic sustainability of commercial beekeeping." In other words, we're still screwed, just a little less.
There is some hope. The Bee Informed Partnership, a five-year, $5 million USDA-backed program, aims to help beekeepers find best practices to keep their colonies intact. The goal is to reduce honeybee losses in the U.S. by 50% in the next five years. The bees aren't all going to buzz through heaven's gates—at least not yet.
Read More: Are Cell Phones Killing The Bees? [Updated]