One well-worn, and probably accurate, estimate says that one-third of the human diet can be traced directly, or indirectly, to bee pollination. This estimate is probably more accurate for human diets in developed countries.
About 130 agricultural plants in the United States are pollinated by bees, and the annual value of honey bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is estimated at over $9 billion.
The annual benefit of honey bee pollination in Canada is estimated at $443 million, and over 47,000 colony rentals take place every year. Every dollar spent on colony rental fees in Québec returns $41 for blueberries and $192 for apples.
Honey bee rental for commercial pollination is a viable component of the beekeeping industries. Commercial beekeepers in this region earned more than 60 percent of their annual gross revenues from colony rentals in 1998 and 72 percent in 1995. Demand exceeded supply during much of the 1990s and this led to favorable market conditions for beekeepers. The average rental price per colony increased from $19.25 in 1992 to $31.55 in 1996. During the same period, the average annual revenue from colony rentals increased a remarkable 246 percent from $37,993 in 1992 to $131,625 in 1996.
Georgia has 75,000 bee colonies and 2,000 hobby and commercial beekeepers. The industry generates $70 million each year in the state through sales of honey, beeswax, queen bees and package bees.
"Georgia ranks 14th in the nation in honey production and second, behind California, in queen bee and packaged bee production," said Keith Delaplane, an Extension Service entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "These are bees that are shipped all to beekeepers over the world for starting up colonies and for crop pollination. We dominate on the east coast as a supplier of bees."
For fruit- or nut-bearing crops, pollination can be a grower's last chance to increase yield. Its the degree and extent of pollination that dictates the maximum possible number of fruits. All post-pollination inputs, whether growth regulators, herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides, are generally designed not to increase yield but to conserve losses. Because of its yield-optimizing benefits, bee pollination can play an important role in maintaining a sustainable and profitable agriculture with minimized disruptions to the environment.
Alterations in agricultural practices that significantly reduce yield rates have the danger of encouraging more wild lands to be converted into farmland to make up for reduced yields. Good bee pollination and optimized crop yields are thus part of a sound environmental management policy.
The economic value of bee pollination goes beyond production agriculture because bees pollinate more than just crop plants. Bees pollinate more than 16 percent of the flowering plant species in the world.
Bee pollination sustains native and introduced plants that control erosion, beautify human environments and increase property values. Bees pollinate native plants that provide food for wildlife and have inherent value as members of local natural ecosystems.
Bee-dependent plants touch human life, whether providing us a bountiful food supply or a pleasant walk through a park, humans depend on bees. Bees may not be necessary to human life, but they are necessary for life as we know it.
Text adapted from: Delaplane, K.S. & D.F. Mayer. 2000. Crop pollination by bees. CAB International, Oxon, United Kingdom, 344 pp.
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