Iowa Department of Agriculture bee researcher Andrew Joseph characterized the situation as a 'death by a thousand paper cuts" as the honey bee population has faced an environment lacking in diversity, pesticide problems, colony collapse and parasites such as varroa mites, since the 1990s.
These conditions lead to stressed, sick and weakened bees that can't weather the winter.
'It's not that bees can't handle a cold winter or snow … (but) when you go into winter with those types of bees and then you're confronted with the harshness of this season, they don't make it through to spring time," Joseph
said an average honey bee winter loss is around 15 to 20 percent in Iowa.
Experts compare the numbers from October to April and, although he
doesn't have official numbers yet, early reports hint at a significant loss, he
said while the honey bee population isn't doomed it will be a rebuilding year.
said beekeepers will have to put more time and effort into keeping bees strong and healthy to try to stem future loss.
estimated Iowa has between 3,500 and 4,000 beekeepers, ranging from people with one or two hives in their backyard to business operations such as Stewart's.
said although honey is what honey bees are known for producing, they're also vital for healthy vegetables and fruits, which they pollinate to give the crops good color and the taste people enjoy.
said despite the troubling decade or so for bees, he's
glad there remains a growing interest in beekeeping.
'One of the things we tell them is you're getting into this at the worst time in history.
But that doesn't seem to deter very many at all," he
said. 'They want to do something good and learn more about what's going on, and I appreciate that interest."