Time to Create Some Buzz for Honey Bees
The irony of writing this month’s cover story is not lost on me. In fact, buzzing, stinging insects and I have a strange relationship. When I was a very young, impressionable child, my Grandma Herrick told me about horse flies — these large, buzzing insects that bite my favorite animal. From that day on, anything that buzzed was enemy No. 1 because they would hurt my four-legged friends.
Then, as an older impressionable child, I remember reports of “killer bees” invading the country. That certainly didn’t help me overcome my fears of flying, buzzing insects. First, they came for my equine friends. Now, death was involved? In fact, I distinctly remember telling my mom how much I loved winter because there were no bugs. Ha!
While I eventually grew to prefer summer, I learned the difference between common house flies, horse and deer flies, and bees, yellow jackets, wasps, and the like. But, I couldn’t help but wonder if the imprints of my well-meaning family might be similar to others’ experiences. We’re categorically encouraged to kill and remove insects deemed a nuisance. These insects are more foe than friend.
While those of us in the industry are intimately aware of the role honey bees play in ag production, I’m not so sure folks outside of the industry are as aware. To the rest of the world, honey bees are just that — bees. Sure, bees are a part of popular culture, being featured on famous fashion designers’ phone cases and purses, on cereal boxes and music videos. Even the bee emoji features a bee with its stinger deployed.
Just a simple search for “honey bee” online elicits a few results that are educational for consumers. But not many. And most don’t have catchy, actionable headlines that would drive someone to click. It could be the simple fact that educational stories about honey bees aren’t salacious. But when 20,000 bees swarm a hot dog stand in New York City, that’s interesting.
As I was researching the cover story, I watched Dennis vanEngelsdorp’s TED Talk, “A Plea for Bees,” as he illustrated the crucial role honey bees have in our food production. An Assistant Professor of Entomology at the University of Maryland and Assistant Research Specialist for the Bee Informed Partnership, vanEngelsdorp says it is estimated one in three bites of food is directly or indirectly pollinated by honey bees. He then illustrated what his breakfast would look like with and without the help of honey bees. There wasn’t much left on the plate. I was surprised by the visual, and I write about fruit and nut production for a living.
“If we did not have bees, it’s not like we would starve, but clearly our diet would be diminished,” vanEngelsdorp says.
There are other pollinators, such as blue orchard bees, and there are others robo-bees, drones, and spray pollination. But quite honestly, what’s better than a honey bee?
It’s important we all understand and promote pollination and pollinator health. Bee-friendly outreach efforts from those within the industry have helped create some buzz, pardon the pun. I’ve noticed great signs at farm markets indicating the role pollinators have to the farm’s fruit crops. And there are initiatives to encourage bee-friendly pollinator fields and ways to encourage and promote native species.
You can read my cover story to learn more tips on ways to help protect honey bees. After all, they are your crop’s best friend.