Although many do not realize it, bees are an essential part of our agricultural system. Farmers around the country use bees from apiaries like the one owned by Jeremy Jelinek of Michigan to pollinate crops such as cherries, apples, alfalfa and almonds. Just a single acre of sweet cherries requires roughly 140,000 bees to maintain it.
In the past, farmers relied on wild honey bees to do this work for them, but recent declines in wild bee populations have made these farmers reliant on beekeepers, who will ship bees wherever they are needed.
However, now even the beekeepers are feeling the pain of their own bee population loss. What is at issue is the changing climate and the unpredictable weather that goes along with it. Spring weather is coming earlier in the year than it has in the past, causing some crops like fruit trees to bloom unseasonably early. This in turn forced Jelinek to send his bees out almost a month earlier than normal.
However, the warmer weather didn't last, and frosts decimated his populations. This caused his business to lose almost $100,000 this year, and unlike farmers, beekeepers no longer receive support from the state that helps soften financial loss during a disaster.
In the future, Jelinek worries that more unpredictable weather patterns may further destabilize his business. If this holds true for him and other beekeepers, it could have far-reaching effects on the agricultural industry, and perhaps impact prices at the grocery store.
"If we don't have consistent good weather, our bees are not going to build [honey comb] the way they should. And that's going to affect our honey crop, which affects the pocketbook," - Jeremy Jelinek, beekeeper.
1. Why might bees be useful in agriculture?
2. How does weather affect the agricultural business?
1. Should the state offer assistance to beekeepers during a crisis like they do for farmers? Why or why not?
2. Can you think of ways climate change is affecting other parts of the agricultural industry? If so, how?
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