Mysterious Malady Killing MN Bees Could Bring Higher Prices for Some Foods

Updated: 04/10/2013 8:13 PM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

Talk about home grown.

Minnesota is one of the top five honey producing states in the country. 

But over the winter, bee hives here have been dramatically and mysteriously dying off.

This year is the worst in recent memory, according to local experts.  Fewer bees means less pollination for crops.  For all of us, that means higher prices for certain foods.

The landscape around the Minnehaha Creek makes the perfect scene for Kristy Allen's newest bee hive. She co-owns Beez Kneez.

"It's surrounded by natural prairie and wildflowers," says Allen.

She applied for 10 permits to establish honey bee hives all over Minneapolis, including at Longfellow Garden.  She's hoping to revive her business after the worst year yet, where half of her hives were wiped out.  A normal loss is 20%, this year it's 50%.  The huge loss, stings, "to find a dead hive that you cared for all winter is really hard, but it's why we're doing this," she says.

The mysterious malady killing off bees is expanding.  At the University of Minnesota's bee lab, they're in search of answers.  Katie Lee is a researcher, "it may be due to drought this year, parasitic mites, viruses," or she speculates, powerful new pesticides.  Whatever the reasons, "the average Minnesotan should care about bees because 1/3 of the food we eat depends on bees."

Things like fruits and vegetables.  Bee's pollinate crops within three miles of their hives.  Fewer bees this year, means smaller, less healthy harvests and high food prices as a result.  Experts can't put a figure on how much higher, just yet.  They're waiting to see how local hives fare.

As for Kristy Allen, "I'm concerned about food security, and everybody eats, everybody needs to eat and if the bees are having a hard time surviving we really need to pay attention."

Beekeepers expect bee's to arrive from out-of-state by the end of the month. 

Along with the Department of Ag, the EPA is studying the issue.

At last count, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture had more than 440 beekeepers on the books.