Why dwindling bee populations are threatening U.S. agriculture

Environmental The Pollinators

Much of the American agricultural industry is heavily reliant on one thing — honey bees. Pollinators, like the honeybee, are pivotal in growing and cultivating our fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Unfortunately, more and more are dying due to a number of factors. Beekeeper and film director Peter Nelson sat down with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio to talk about his new documentary “The Pollinators,” which explores the bee pollination industry and what’s causing more bees to die every year. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: Tell me about this dramatic logistics operation to get the bees to crops right at the moment those crops need the bees?

Peter Nelson: It’s kind of a great story because nobody knows it really happens. They use massive amounts of bees that are moved across the country every year for pollination. So they move two million bees for almond pollination every year out to California from all over the country in order to do that one pollination and from there they spread out and they’re moved by truck at night, usually to remote places to so many other crops. Like 400 crops that we eat are commonly pollinated by honey bees.

Brancaccio: I was watching the film, I was so surprised. The same little critter, the same bee that helped pollinate blueberries in Maine might end up in California [at a] different time of the year?

Nelson: Exactly right. And honey bees have this unique quality, in that they go back to their hive at night. And you can palletize them and you can move them on trucks and so they’ll put 400 pallets, 400 hives of bees on a truck and move it at night to another location.

A beekeeper uses smoke to calm down bees defending their hives. (Courtesy of Peter Nelson)

Brancaccio: It’s this dramatic operation. What — generally smaller —businesses [are] doing this?

Nelson: Most often it is smaller, a few thousand people, that do it and they’re small family operations, usually multi-generational family operations that move these bees around for the most part.

Brancaccio: And some crops like corn don’t need pollination from bees. But other big crops, almonds, need a lot of bees?

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The Pollinators

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