By Anne Thompson
6 May 2013

(NBC Nightly News) – Brian Williams: This is just the time of year when gardens across so much of our country should be buzzing with activity. beehives of activity, in fact. But those same bees that scared us to death as kids, we came to appreciate as adults for the work they do. The problem is those bees are scarce these days. something is killing the honey bees. it's having a huge ripple effect. Our report tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson.

Denise Qualls: Hey, Gary. Denise Qualls, how are you?

Anne Thompson:  Denise is a match maker for farms and bees.

Denise Qualls: This year was almost a natural disaster.

Anne Thompson: Because the bee die-off, what some call colony collapse disorder, appeared to accelerate.

Brett Ady: This year it seemed like it got the whole nation.

Anne Thompson:  Brett Ady is the largest beekeeper in the country. A decade ago he figured on a 5% loss on hives. This winter he lost 42%.

Closeup view of a beehive. The bee die-off in the U.S. continued to accelerate in 2013. Photo: NBC Nightly News

Brett Ady: I don't think there is anybody else we can call to get bees if we have a shortage again.

Anne Thompson:  A shortage that drove bee prices sky high for almond farmer Eric Harksen.

Eric Harksen: It's a bidding war. Who has them, who doesn't, and how much you are willing to pay.

Anne Thompson:  He paid twice as much for bees this year as he did five years ago.

There are plenty of theories but no single cause as to what's killing the bees. The suspects include mites, diseases, weather, and pesticides. University of California at Davis researcher Eric Mucin found residues of 150 different chemicals in the bee colonies he's studied.

Eric Mucin: When you mix certain chemicals in together they become much more toxic to bees than either one alone would be.

Anne Thompson: The European Union voted to suspend the use of neonicotinoids, systemic pesticides widely used on corn, wheat, and soybeans, because of possible links to bee collapse. The pesticide industry disputes any connection, saying the scientific basis for such a decision is poor. For farmers who need bees, some are now so scared they are reserving bees five years in advance.

Denise Qualls: They have one chance to make their money. If you can't get it done with the bees, they're done.

Anne Thompson:  Nature's irreplaceable helper that none of us can do without. Anne Thompson, NBC News, Chicago.

Bee shortage threatens farmland

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