Bee keepers buzzing about harsh winter

Northern Michigan Bee Keeper, Delbert Whitman says that he has seen the trends all over the state.

A long and very cold winter has created some concern across the country for the honey bee population and how it could impact honey products and agriculture.

The Rare Bird Brew Pub will be opening it's doors in the beginning of June. For a unique twist, owners have placed a bee hive on their roof, and have two more at their home. They hope to use the honey for some of their food products, and beer, but are now questioning how much they'll have to use after losing one entire hive to the harsh winter.

"With the cold winter you can do everything you can to insulate the hives but the longer the winter duration...the more honey the honey bees need to survive during the winter so that really limits the amount of honey we can take off the hive and use," said co-owner, Nate Crane.

Northern Michigan Bee Keeper, Delbert Whitman says that he has seen the trends all over the state.

"As much as 65-percent plus in loss," said Whitman. "The nationwide average was 23-percent but locally here we just had a really harsh winter."

Honey production isn't the only thing the bee keepers are concerned about. According to data reported in 2010 from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the value of primary fruit and vegetable crops in Michigan that depend on pollination was estimated to be around $422 million in 2005. Nationally the value attributed to honey bee pollination was estimated to be around $14 billion per year in 2000.

"It causes a lot of issues with commercial pollination," said Whitman. "A massive proportion of the food that we eat is commercially pollinated by honey bees."

Experts say the losses are a concern but that the impacts will be worse if the harsh winter weather continues over the next 3-4 years.

"35 percent loss is the threshold for sustainability," said Whitman. "So if we have consistent winter losses that are more than 30-35 percent you really start to have some trouble. Your overall colony population starts to go down then and you really can't recover from it if you have consistent losses like that."