Nightly News   |  May 06, 2013

Bee shortage threatens farmland

Mites, diseases, and pesticides are all suspected of contributing to bee colony collapse disorder. The bees are dying at such a fast rate that farmers who rely on bees for pollination are now reserving them five years in advance. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> this is just the time of year when gardens across so much of our country should be buzzing with activity. beehives of activity, in fact. but those same bees that scared us to death as kids, we came to appreciate as adults for the work they do. the problem is those bees are scarce these days. something is killing the honey bees . it's having a huge ripple effect. our report tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent anne thompson .

>> hey, gary. denise qualls, how are you?

>> reporter: denise is a match maker for farms and bees.

>> this year was almost a natural disaster .

>> reporter: because the bee die-off, what some call colony collapse disorder , appeared to accelerate.

>> this year it seemed like it got the whole nation.

>> reporter: brett ady is the largest beekeeper in the country. a decade ago he figured on a 5% loss on hives. this winter he lost 42%.

>> i don't think there is anybody else we can call to get bees if we have a shortage again.

>> reporter: a shortage that drove bee prices sky high .

>> it's a bidding war. who has them, who doesn't and how much you are willing to pay.

>> reporter: he paid twice as much for bees this year as he did five years ago. there are theories but no single cause as to what's killing the bees. the suspects inclut mites, diseases, weather and pesticides. university of california at davis researcher eric mucin found residues of 150 different chemicals in the bee colonies he's studied.

>> when you mix certain chemicals in together they become much more toxic to bees than either one alone would be.

>> reporter: the european union voted to suspend the use of systemic pesticides widely used on corn, wheat and soybeans because of possible links to bee collapse. the pesticide industry disputes any connection, saying the scientific basis for such a decision is poor. for farmers who need bees, some are now so scared they are reserving bees five years in advance.

>> they have one chance to make their money. if you can't get it done with the bees, they're done.

>> reporter: nature's irreplaceable helper that none of us can do without. anne thompson , nbc news, chicago.