In addition to his full-time job, Dean Strickland cares for approximately 100 bee colonies daily. She first started beekeeping 15 years ago after researching the health benefits honey could have for her children.
“I thought to myself, ‘I want to be a beekeeper — it doesn’t sound too complicated,'” Strickland said. “That’s a joke in itself, because there’s more to keeping bees than just having a box in your backyard.”
Strickland now knows how challenging beekeeping can be, especially as bee colonies dwindle across America.
He is president of the Northeast Oklahoma Beekeepers Association and one of the few beekeepers in the state who participates in the annual Bee Informed Partnership Management and Loss Survey.
This year, preliminary results from the nonprofit show that commercial beekeepers in the United States lost about 39 percent of their bee colonies from April 2021 to April of this year. This increase is more than 50% of the total number of hives compared to last year’s record breaking number. But despite the fact that hive losses have decreased slightly, Dr. Natalie Steinhauer, scientific coordinator and researcher for the partnership, said the rate is still very high.
Loss of pollinators
According to the USDA, commercial honey bee colonies pollinate at least $15 billion worth of food crops each year.
Because honeybees, a non-native pollinator, have been managed for so long, some consider them livestock, Steinhauer says. Honey bees are often transported across the country to pollinate essential agricultural crops such as almonds, apples, and blueberries. Minimizing the loss of beekeepers and ensuring the health of bee colonies is very important for food production.
“Until we increase the diversity of native plants, we have to rely on professional pollinators, which are honey bees,” Steinhauer said.