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Beekeepers Worry about Threats to Hives, Including Chemicals

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Honey Bee Health & Colony Collapse Disorder page and our Texas News page.
GAUSE -- For the first time since Thanksgiving, commercial beekeeper Clint Walker III is working with his colonies of honeybees scattered across Central Texas ranchland.

By April 1, Walker hopes to triple the size of his hives that are currently pollinating yaupon holly trees several miles from the Brazos River. A few hundred yards from a herd of grazing cattle, Walker, who runs the honey business started by his father in 1938, is checking on the colonies' health and giving them nutrients to stimulate the queens to start laying eggs.

Unlike those of most U.S. commercial beekeepers, Walker's hives are staying home this winter. For the second straight year, he won't be shipping bees to California for February's annual pollination of the almond crop.

"I've been chemical-free for nearly two years," Walker said. "We've stayed out of agricultural fields to cut out their exposure to chemicals, and my bees are finally starting to behave like bees again."

It's a result of his experiences with colony collapse disorder, a malady that has hit U.S. beekeepers hard in recent years and caused his hives to plummet from a peak of 2,500 in 2006 to fewer than 1,000 today.

While a variety of culprits have been identified as possible causes of colony collapse, including pesticides, varroa mites, viruses and a parasitic fly that turns them into so-called zombie bees, the search for a solution is crucial with bees pollinating about a third of the U.S. food supply.

Since Walker changed his business practices to focus solely on honey making, new research about the risks of pesticides continues to come forward.
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