When a Pennsylvania beekeeper returned to the bees he left in Tampa, Florida for their winter rest during 2007, most had vanished. Contacting other beekeepers, he learned he was not the only one. The problem was Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a mysterious affliction that has a 30% hive depletion rate, double the normal winter amount.
The media has described CCD as a devastating environmental problem. Talking about solutions, people typically look to government for regulation and subsidies.
Sadly, few talk about the market. And yet, that is where we can find a solution.
Almost all of the honeybees in the US belong to commercial beekeepers. In beekeeping businesses, bee colonies are the production units that pollinate and produce honey. Sort of like managed livestock, the bees are loaded into huge 18 wheeler trucks, as they “follow the bloom.”
On the West Coast, a beekeeper could start by pollinating a California almond field for 3 weeks, travel north to apples, pears and cherries, then strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and finally onward to the carrots. On the East Coast, trucks move from Florida’s citrus crop to Maine’s blueberries. (They travel at night when the bees are inactive and stay in their trucks.)
When CCD struck, the market system responded. Beekeepers replenished their depleted supply primarily by splitting existing hives and buying extra queen bees. If all of the fruits and vegetables that they had been pollinating were jeopardized, then price hikes would have revealed threatening shortages.
Pollination fees, though, did not soar. (Do note that almond pollination fees were ascending before CCD.)
You can see also that the price of queen bees has been relatively stable. A stable price is a signal that the market is coping with CCD.
Waiting to see the information that prices convey, we can judge how that the market system responds before looking to government for a solution.
Sources and resources: I never realized that the bee business was fascinating. In the Monday econtalk podcast to which I regularly listen, Russ Roberts had one of his best interviews with Walter Thurman, an economist who specialized in bee economics. Their talk then took me to Dr. Thurman’s paper.