Drought-weakened bee colonies threaten West Coast crops

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Drought-weakened bee colonies threaten West Coast crops

A shortage of bees needed to pollinate fruits and flowers is putting West Coast cash crops like almonds, plums and apples at risk, according to more than a dozen interviews with farmers, bee experts, economists and farm industry groups, Reuters reports.

Midwestern apiarists haul their drought-weakened insects by truck to California almond farms in the winter to pollinate orchards in the top global producer of the nuts increasingly in demand for milk substitutes. Then they move on to other fruits.

The dearth of strong bee colonies and the resulting higher costs to lease them for pollination services will add to the challenges of West Coast growers already dealing with drought and, in California, soaring water costs. It could also add to soaring costs consumers are facing at grocery stores.

Scientists have linked weather extremes from severe heat to floods and droughts to climate change. Such weather events are rippling through the food chain, raising food costs and heaping economic pain on small-scale farmer -- and devastating bee colonies.

The 2.7 million managed honey bee colonies in the United States, one in five of them in North Dakota, are crucial to pollinating scores of crops, including cherries and peaches as well as almonds and apples. Income from pollination services totaled $254 million in 2020, according to U.S. government data.

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