Mysterious decline of honey bee population could affect food supply

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The honey bee population is mysteriously declining, and experts worry if the bees go, honey and wax won't be the only things we lose.

At Hemken Honey in Big Bend, all things start with a buzz. The operation is Andy Hemken's life's work.

"We`ve got 350 hives now and it`s paying a lot of the bills. People know who we are now," Hemken said.

Hemken produces about 28 barrels of honey that he sells at farmer's markets and roadside stands. It is a business that relies on the honey bee.

Hemken says he has seen a disturbing trend -- a decline in his honey bee population.

"Last year, we lost 200 out of 300 hives," Hemken said.

It started about seven years ago.

"We had just a complete dump-over winter of our hives and they died," Hemken said.

The mysterious disappearance is perplexing beekeepers and scientists.

"In honey bees, it seems that we`ve really been stumped," Harris Byers with the Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension said.

Byers is an adjunct instructor with the Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension Service.

"Populations of honey bees have been suffering from something referred to as colony collapse disorder," Byers said.

Exactly why it's happening is debated. Some blame pesticides, mites or a change in diet. Experts worry a loss of the honey bee will have a greater impact.

"They pollinate trees and they pollinate wild flowers and in that pollination seeds are made, fruits get made, which is food for birds, mammals and certainly people as well," Byers said.

It is estimated one-third of our diet is directly or indirectly related to the honey bee.

"Look at things like raspberries, melons, pumpkins, a lot of the fruits and nuts, even apples," Hemken said.

The honey bee shortage could hurt consumers in the long run.

"As bees become less and less and less available, we have to start doing things like importing them," Byers said.

If importing doesn't work, there is an even bigger fear.

"I think Einstein said `if the bees go, we go in five years.`  It`s not quite true, but it's going to be a lot more difficult to do things," Hemken said.

The uncertainty is not stopping Hemken. He plans to continue his work with the honey bee, and stay focused on doing his best to keep them alive.

Experts say the biggest thing you can do to keep the honey bees thriving is to reduce pesticide use and allow your plants and vegetables to bloom.

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