Coronavirus lockdowns that keep farmers from fields and suppliers from markets are restricting another cornerstone of the agriculture industry: bees.
Responsible for pollinating about a third of the plants we eat, bees are in short supply and their numbers declining globally.
In large, food-exporting countries like the US and China, there are too few local bees to pollinate crops — so beekeepers truck hives thousands of kilometers to pollinate fields.
Now, travel restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus are hurting the pollination industry by keeping bees at home.
They are also stopping some beekeepers from feeding their hives, grounding flights that could import bees from abroad, and making it harder to hire seasonal workers to transport them, said Etienne Bruneau of Apimondia, the international federation of beekeepers. Some farmers “arrive in the [pollinating] season without bees and nobody to help them.”
In the US, which is the world’s biggest agricultural exporter but has fewer beehives than Spain, farmers rely on bees trucked long distances on pallets and forklifted into fields.
California grows more than 3 in 4 of the world’s almonds and each spring about two-thirds of the country’s bee population is mobilized to pollinate them. The bees are then loaded onto trucks and sent elsewhere to fields of cherries, apples, blueberries, cranberries, pumpkins and other foods.
Pollination services contribute $15-20 billion (€13.7- €18.3 billion) to the value of US crop production and, for many beekeepers, it is more lucrative than making honey. When bees gather nectar, pollen sticks to their bodies and rubs off onto other plants they land on. Harvest losses without their help can range from 5-10% for grains like rapeseed to as high as 80% for almonds and cherries, said Bruneau.