Bees in America have been dropping like flies. Since the late 1990s, beekeepers, farmers, and scientists have noticed a steady decline in the bee population across the country. Before 2006, the usual number of bees that beekeepers lost due to frost or disease was 5-10 percent. After 2006, beekeepers saw that number rise to between a 30 to 36 percent decline in their hives. Panic really set in when a US report stated that American beekeepers lost 44.1 percent of their hives between March 2015 and April 2016.
So, what does this have to do with the land real estate market? Losing bees could have devastating effects on our farms, economy, and day-to-day life. As food pollinators, bees play a huge part in almost everything we eat and everything that our food (cows, pigs, turkeys, etc.) eats. Without them, landowners would lose the most efficient and cost-effective pollinators on Earth, driving the cost of farming and food way up. Farmers would have to invest in expensive pollination technology. If they couldn’t afford the technology, farmers would be severely limited in what crops they could grow since bees pollinate thirty percent of the world’s crops.
The loss of bees could also be disastrous for land values. Crops, livestock, and wildlife will drop in numbers and value without the bees around to pollinate the plants and food sources of the land. Since the value of land real estate relies heavily on the profitability of the land and its natural resources, a drop in bee population could mean a huge drop in land values.
No one knows the main reason bee populations are dropping, but there are several factors scientists believe are hurting our winged friends. A growing number of varroa mites, tiny crab-like parasites, have been feeding off of drone bees and can kill off entire hives. These mites are tiny and hard to spot, which lets them destroy hives from the inside out without anyone noticing until it is too late. Another possible reason is neonicotinoids, a powerful insecticide that slowly weakens bees.
People have been scrambling to find ways to help the honeybees. Almond growers in California are trying to breed more blue orchard bees (B.O.B.s). The blue orchard bees are known for being excellent pollinators. They are more efficient than regular honey bees; a few hundred female blue orchard bees can do the same amount of work as 10,000 regular honey bees.
Although introducing a new breed of bee sounds like a great idea, there are a few drawbacks to the blue orchard bee. For one, they do not produce honey. Another is that they have sluggish reproduction rates (bee keepers have only been able to increase their B.O.B.s a factor of three to eight every year, a tiny fraction of how quickly honey bees can be increased), so getting enough for the current American demand for bees might be tough. The cost of raising B.O.B.s is also still uncertain.
Technology also offers hope for the bees. Robo-bees may sound like something from a sci-fi moive, but in Japan, they are already a reality. Japanese scientists have created a remote-controlled drone the size of a dragonfly. These robo-bees are able to pollinate lilies and are currently being retooled to pollinate other crops. U.S. scientists say a similar product in is the works right here in our own country.
These robo-bees also have their drawbacks. They would be significantly more expensive than raising honeybees, and the risk of malfunctioning could leave fields without pollination for days or even weeks on end.
While the rest of the world is trying to figure out a cure for this epidemic, there are things you can do to help the bees:
–Grow flowers that attract bees. Lavender, white clover, and thyme can all help attract bees to your farm.
-Build a hive or sponsor one. Vice President Mike Pence had a beehive in his backyard and encourages others to do the same. Don’t like the idea of bees buzzing around where you go barefoot? You can also support a hive through websites like the Honeybee Conservancy to help give bees a safe place to thrive.
-Make your land real estate bee-friendly. Besides planting bee-friendly flowers, you can also invest in pesticides that don’t harm bees.
The decline in bee population is a serious threat to everyone. However, with a raised awareness, people are starting to understand how important bees are to our food and land real estate. Because of this, there is hope that the bee population across America will be able to grow again.
About the author: Laura Barker is Marketing Assistant for the REALTORS® Land Institute. She graduated from Clark University in May 2017 and had been with RLI since October 2017.