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A honeybee sits atop a canola blossom in early July 2014 in the Robinson, N.D., area. (Mikkel Pates/Agweek)

Study: CCD effects on commercial bees are 'very small'

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Though colony collapse disorder has generated a great deal of concern, the phenomenon has had "very small effects" on commercial pollinators, according to an author of a new study on the economic impacts of colony collapse disorder, or CCD, among commercial honeybees.

The research found "remarkably little to suggest dramatic and widespread economic effects from CCD," according to the report.

"When we started this project, we expected to find huge effects, but we found very small ones," said Randy Rucker, a professor in Montana State University's Department of Agricultural Economics and Economic."The only effects we found on consumers, for example, is that they probably pay about 10 cents more for a $7, 1-pound can of almonds at the grocery store."

"Almond pollination fees did go up substantially, but they went up before CCD hit," Rucker said. "You can't attribute those increases to colony collapse disorder."

Overall, few of the changes in commercial pollinator markets can be linked directly to CCD or other recent pollinator health concerns, he said.

Rucker and colleagues at North Carolina State University and Oregon State University began studying CCD several years to estimate its economic impacts. CCD first received widespread attention in the 2006-07, when bee mortality was estimated to be almost 30%.

The negative effects of CCD have been minimized because "beekeepers are savvy," Rucker said. "Our research provides reason for optimism about the future ability of commercial beekeepers to adapt to environmental or biological shocks to their operations and to pollination markets."

The report sought to identify trends in four areas: the number of commercial honeybee colonies nationwide, honey production, prices of queens and packaged bees, and pollination fees charged by commercial beekeepers to growers.

The report's conclusions include:

• Prices of queens and packaged bees "have not increased dramatically."

• Though there were "pre-existing downward trends" in both colony numbers and honey production before the onset of CCD, the rate of decline has not increased. In fact, colony numbers in 2018 were higher than they had been over the last 20 years.

But the report doesn't address non-managed pollinators, data on which is scarce, Rucker said.

He also said there are many unknowns about CCD.

"There is definitely much more work to be done to grasp the effects of CCD and other threats to bee health," he said.

The report was published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists. More information: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/704360.

North Dakota leads the nation in honey production, with South Dakota second, Montana third and Minnesota seventh.

In 2018, U.S. honey production rose 2% to 152 million pounds and the number of colonies rose 4% to 2.8 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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