Welcome to the FRB blog, where every month we explore the world of honeybees! Today we are going to discuss agricultural and commercial beekeeping; what it is, why its environmentally detrimental, and why it's necessary.
Agricultural beekeeping is what most people think of when they hear the word beekeeping. Groups of two to five people in full body, bright white beekeeping suits moving between dozens of hives out in an open field on a sunny day. Agricultural beekeeping is the process of keeping bees on a farm or orchard in order to promote pollination between the plants on said farm for the sole purpose of producing crops, and is a type of commercial beekeeping.
Commercial beekeeping is any beekeeping practice that is directed to providing widespread services. In addition to agriculture, commercial beekeeping encompasses practices like honey production, beeswax manufacturers, actual honeybee production and several others.
While these commercial beekeeping services are essential for our modern way of life, they are undeniably wreaking havoc on surrounding ecosystems. Much research has been done in recent years on the effects of honeybees in non-native environments (which is everywhere in the USA) and there has been an overwhelming conclusion that commercial beekeeping is driving the unnatural decline of the environments that surround them. The bees in commercial and agricultural operations have been found to spread disease, drain
natural resources, and outcompete native species into major decline. This is because agricultural and commercial beekeeping often requires the use of thousands of hives, each with at least 60,000 bees in it. Simple math shows that this is putting 60 million bees into the same relatively small region, which is significantly more than any one ecosystem could ever contain.
Unfortunately small apiaries have been caught in the crossfire of the bad bee publicity. Publications and articles have misconstrued the data being released about the negative effects of beehives in agricultural practices and believe that honeybees are detrimental to the environment as a whole. To the contrary, as far as current research is concerned, stable bee populations are quite good for nearly all ecosystems. They provide significant pollination services to all ecosystems, and provide what is known as generalist pollination. Generalist pollination, in simple terms, means that the honeybees pollinate and take nectar from a little bit of everything. This contrasts with native pollinators who are often classified as niche pollinators, who only pollinate and take nectar from a small subset of plants in an ecosystem. So, when in balance, these two roles complement each other for the healthy pollination and maintenance of an ecosystem.
We like to say that honeybees are much like cattle: in small and manageable numbers they provide great benefits in an ecosystem, but when you have too many they become a serious issue.
While we know through science that agricultural apiaries are causing problems with surrounding environments, we can’t currently do anything about it. Honeybees are absolutely critical for the pollination of our crops, and the amount of bees used in these operations is necessary to provide pollination to all the plants on a plot. There is currently no other technology that can provide the same service as millions of honeybees, but finding one may become more and more necessary as current practices cause ecosystems to collapse, species to go extinct and the honeybees being used themselves start to die out from their own overpopulation.
We at FRB are aware of this problem and analyze all of our system locations to make sure we aren't overloading an ecosystem. We know that the bees still need our help, but are cautious to make sure that we’re not hurting anything else while we help them.
To learn more about honeybees and honeybee overpopulation check out the Free Range Beehives home page or reach out to us using the links at the bottom of the page.