FARM BEAT: Bees star in State Theatre film about colony collapse

jholland@modbee.comJune 28, 2013 


A pair of honeybees face off over a flower while foraging for pollen and nectar Sunday, Nov. 9, 2003, near Newton, Texas. (AP Photo/The Daily Sentinel, Andrew D. Brosig)


    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John

Giant images of honeybees will flicker on the State Theatre screen next month.

It's not a horror film. It's a documentary about pollination of crops in California and elsewhere.

The film might scare you nonetheless. It deals with colony collapse disorder, the mysterious disappearance of many of the bees that make a good part of agriculture possible.

The film, "More Than Honey," is written and directed by Markus Imhoof, an Oscar-nominated Swiss filmmaker whose family has kept bees for generations.

Beekeepers around the world have faced the disorder for most of the past decade. Some have had light losses; some have been wiped out.

The losses occur over each winter. Under normal conditions, beekeepers expect that up to 15 percent of their bees will not survive into the new year. Over the past seven years, the average losses across the United States have ranged from 22 percent to 36 percent.

Almond growers in the Central Valley know all about this. The region is by far the world's largest producer of the nuts and uses about two-thirds of the nation's commercial hives each February and March. So far, the crop has made it through, but the cost of renting bees has soared.

"More Than Honey" intercuts close-ups of bees in action with comments from farmers and other people concerned about the losses. It also provides the basics on bee biology and social life.

The species at issue is the European honeybee, which is not native to the United States but has become vital to agriculture here. The bees pollinate cherries, apples, apricots, plums, kiwis, avocados, cucumbers, melons, squash and many other crops.

Hence the "More Than Honey" title. Beekeepers do sell the sweet stuff for part of their income, but they also earn money through pollination services. And those services make possible the far greater income from all those other crops.

Researchers say the disorder could have one or more causes, such as viruses, mites, poor nutrition or stress from being trucked all over. Much of the recent attention has been on last year's drought in the Great Plains and Midwest, which deprived bees of many of the flowers that nourish them in summer.

While the search for a cause goes on, experts also promote practices that might boost the colonies' resistance. This could mean extra vigilance against mites and viruses. It could mean sowing wildflowers near an almond orchard to supplement the bees' diet.

Regular folks can do their part by seeing the film at the State. Make it dinner and a movie — and think about how the food got to your plate.

Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at or (209) 578-2385.





Where: State Theatre, 1307 J St., Modesto

When: 4 p.m. July 5; 7 p.m. July 8; 4 p.m. July 11; and 4 p.m. July 17

Cost: $8-$10

More information: (209) 527-4697 or


An annual survey estimates the average losses over winter for U.S. commercial beekeepers:

• 2012-13: 31 percent

• 2011-12: 22 percent

• 2010-11: 30 percent

• 2009-10: 34 percent

• 2008-09: 29 percent

• 2007-08: 36 percent

• 2006-07: 32 percent

Note: Under normal conditions, an annual loss of up to 15 percent is manageable.

Source: Bee Informed Partnership

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