Honeybees in 'multi-front battle' to survive, Florida beekeepers say

Hurricane Irma, mites and pesticides killed millions of bees in 2017

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Millions of Florida's honey bees fell victim to heavy flooding from Hurricane Irma last year, a void that has area apiary owners predicting lower supplies of  fruit, honey and many other foods.

“We’re seeing a lot of hives that are basically perished," Garry Oreskovik, of Honey Land Farms, said. "Many of them (hives) are totally useless, the equipment is useless.”

Oreskovik said the flooding from Hurricane Irma last year compounded the bees fight to survive, already victims of parasites and chemicals that have infected and killed a major portion of the bee population nationwide.

“One out of three bites of the food we eat is generally produced by bee pollination,” Oreskovik said.  “And with the loss of bees were just not going to have the pollination to provide the production of food, millions and millions of bees gone.”

In Manatee County, Jim Cutway, a veteran beekeeper and owner of Myakka's Gold Apiary, saw Irma destroy 50 bee colonies, killing an estimated 4 million bees.

Cutway said 2018’s pipeline of blueberries, oranges and other fruit crops will be in short supply, which will mean higher costs for the consumer.

“The managed colonies are what’s responsible for the mass pollination of our food crops," Cutway said. "The bees are fighting a multi-front battle.”

Part of that battle includes Varroa Mites, tiny parasites that have been infecting the bees causing a startling drop in pollination and the bees lifespan.

Davey Hackenberg, part of a family-owned apiary in Dade City, Florida and Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, said he has experienced a dramatic loss in honey production.

“Fifteen years ago we produced 300 barrels of honey a year. In 2016, I produced 80 barrels. Last year, I produced 40," he said.

All three men agree chemicals including herbicides and pesticides have compromised the bees’ immune system.

“A Bee’s lifespan used to be 50 days," Hackenberg said. “Now it’s 35 to 40.”

Scientists in Miami Beach have developed a supplement they believe will  improve the immune system in honeybees. It's called BeesVita Plus.

According to the company, the supplement is a blend of “essential amino acids, minerals and antioxidants.”

Both Hackenberg and Oreskovik report a significant improvement since they started feeding the supplement to their bee populations

“Within seven days, 90 percent of it was all gone and the bees looked healthier,” Hackenberg said.

Bryan Glazer, a spokesperson for the company, said the “natural” supplement, is being tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two dozen beekeepers.

“So far, these beekeepers are saying it’s highly effective," he said."The fact that the bees are eating the product means we are 51 percent of the way there.”

For more information on BeesVita Plus visit healthybeesllc.com.

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