HONEYBEES HURTING: Cold Winter Takes Heavy Toll

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“We’re gonna make it quick.”

It’s a hold-your-breath moment for Dan Dixon of Dixon Farms Honey in Norwalk.

“Those are doing pretty good, that’s a pretty good cluster in there.”

Dixon is lucky.  He’s one of the few Iowa beekeepers who’ve made it through the winter in good shape.

“So this hive had plenty of honey and still has," Dixon says. "That’s a frame of honey.”

Others have found what Arvin Foell of Kelley has--hives full of dead bees, frozen by the winter just inches from the honey they needed to survive.

“Here they are," Foell points out, "right next to the food, but it was so cold they couldn’t get to it.”

“This winter’s been very hard," admits state apiarist, Andy Joseph. "We’ve lost maybe between 65 and 70% of the colonies here in Iowa.”

The news Joseph has been gathering from producers like Foell and Dixon is dire.

“I mean that’s just an enormous expense," Joseph says, "it means this whole year is shut down and you’re in sort of loss recovery and rebuilding mode rather than honey production and pollination mode.”

Honeybees pollinate everything from spring apple blossoms to winter squash.  A hit to their population will in turn hit farmers’ markets, and the wallets of beekeepers.

“When you lose bees like this, you’ve gotta replace them," says Foell, who also heads up the Central Iowa Beekeepers Association. "To replace bees in the spring, the only way to do that is get bees out of California.”

Those prices will almost certainly jump, as will the costs to Iowa orchards and farms that rent bees from Dixon and Foell.

“There might not be enough bees to go around to get the pollination going early this spring,” Dixon says.

What has already been a tough decade for Iowa’s honeybees shows no signs of getting easier.  So the industry is asking for your help.

“Buy those products from local beekeepers," suggests Joseph, "support farmers’ markets and local products on store shelves.”

And keep your fingers crossed for the return of warm weather and full hives.