Golden Heritage not yet stung by disappearing honey bees

A calamity that reduced honey bee populations 70 to 80 percent this year in more than 20 states has had little effect at Golden Heritage Foods Inc. of Hillsboro, the third-largest processer or raw honey in the country.

Even so, Arlen Penner, the company?s vice president for honey procurement, said he continues to monitor the situation.

Penner said the honey supply for the year was saved by beekeepers? efforts to feed bees, and stimulate quick population growth of the insects to bring conditions to near normal.

Practices that were more affected in the United States by the bee decline, Penner said, included early pollination of important crops such almonds in California, where beekeepers bring bees in for the season.

Penner said this time the bee importation may even have added more stress to the struggling hive populations.

The mysterious decline in the worker bee population is being called colony collapse disorder. Researchers from Pennsylvania to California say the pattern is always the same with adult bees dying away from the colony and only a few adults left in the hive showing no symptons.

Although scientists retrieve bee bodies for analysis, Penner said there has been no findings in the literature.

Potential suspects include a fungus or a virus, or a variety of microbes and pesticides. Even isolated cases in Louisiana, Texas and Australia look much the same, the experts said.

Penner said some popular theories about bee disappearances have bordered on the ridiculous: abduction by space aliens and the increase of radio waves in the air due to the explosion of cell-phone usage.

Penner is comforted by the observations of many ?old-time? beekeepers that the problem might be cyclical because they saw a very similar decline in the 1950s.

Golden Heritage gets most of its honey from various locations in the United States, but the country doesn?t produce enough for current demand, Penner said.

Therefore, the locally processed honey also comes from Canada, South America or overseas.

Very little of the honey processed in Hillsboro comes from Kansas, Penner said, because of farming practices here.

Far more comes from the northern states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota.

Penner said Kansas farmers have a tendency to plant new annual crops from ?fence row to fence row,? while in the north far more ground is left in hay. The bees especially like clover and alfalfa stands, he said.

Penner acknowledged that spraying for alfalfa weevils might be a problem for the bees, but suggested farmers could adjust to this with better timing.

Many Kansas beekeepers have hives only sufficient for local production or as a hobby. Penner recently began keeping one hive himself as a project for home schooling his children.

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