Don't worry, bee happy?

Honey Bees that produce raw Wildflower honey work in their hive at a outdoor Farmer's Market August 15, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Beekeepers and honey producers both launch annual meetings today.

It’s a grim time to be in the bee business as American honeybees are dying at an alarming rate due to what’s called colony collapse disorder. No one is certain what’s behind the collapse, but the problem has become so severe it’s gotten the attention of big business.

You can see heightened concern just by looking who is coming to the American Honey Producer Association conference this week. President Randy Verhoek says ten years ago their annual conference was intimate.

"We’d get in different beekeepers to speak, different scientists from the universities," he says. But with the decline of honeybees, the guest list has grown.

"We’re going to have Bayer, Dow, Monsanto," he says.

Producers worry as honey sales this year are expected at no more than $280 million, $30 million down from last year, and are concerned about certain new pesticides and herbicides. There’s also concern farmers are quickly wiping out plants that bees need for foraging as land gets converted for corn and soybeans.

University of Illinois Professor May Berenbaum says the more widely-attended meeting shows as the bee problem worsens, cooperation improves. "We really should take a lead from the bees. If anybody has figured out how to work cooperatively, it’s the honeybee," she says.

Considering that honeybee health threatens the pollination of billions of dollars worth of crops every year, Berenbaum says she’s optimistic.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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