Bees and other pollinators are key to keeping plants and crops alive, not just in North Georgia, but across the entire world.
While wild native pollinators do contribute to local ecosystems, some pollination assistance comes in the form of honeybees, which are farmed for agricultural purposes.
One example is Jarrett Apiaries, a family-operated honeybee apiary in North Georgia.
The business, operated by Slade Jarrett and his wife Kristie Jarrett, has been in operation for about 11 years, according to Slade Jarrett. While many apiaries focus on the sale of honey to consumers, Jarrett Apiaries focuses on the sale of honeybees to hobbyists and others who need a supply of honeybees for their own farms.
“Somebody has got to supply the hobby beekeepers,” Slade Jarrett said. “We actually go in our colony, and we’ll go in and shake frames of bees and add them to a plastic box, which is called a package. Once that package is made up, and we add a new queen to it, we can send it to them, or they can stop by and pick it up.”
Slade Jarrett said at the peak of the season every year, Jarrett Apiaries typically operates about 1,200 colonies. For more on Jarrett Apiaries, watch the above video.
Jarrett Apiaries does sell fresh honey as well, however, it is not the main priority due to the cost of bottling and packaging the product.
Slade Jarrett said the act of beekeeping, while seemingly easy from an outsider’s perspective, is quite challenging. Part of this challenge relates to pollinator decline, something which beekeepers across the world have been fighting for quite some time.
To fight off pollinator decline, Slade Jarrett said Jarrett Apiaries operates as many colonies as possible so that they can manipulate them in the chance that one colony’s population begins to shrink. Aside from this, Jarrett Apiaries also moves its bees to South Georgia during the winter to keep its colonies more active in the warmer environment. Even with all this effort, Jarrett Apiaries is not immune to pollinator decline.
“A lot of people think that anybody [who] runs commercial, doesn’t lose bees,” Slade Jarrett said. “We lose bees.”
While Jarrett Apiaries has been able to adapt to pollinator decline due to its size, Slade Jarrett says it is a much bigger problem for smaller-scale hobbyists.
“If you’ve got one hive and you lose that hive, you have nothing to work with,” Slade Jarrett said.
With that in mind, it is important to know that honeybees are not native to the United States. Jarrett Apiaries, for example, primarily farms Italian honeybees.
According to Susan Brantley, a senior lecturer of biology for the University of North Georgia, honeybees are prime pollinators specifically for crops that were brought to the United States from Europe.
“They’re linked, those crops from Europe and also the bees, which are important for pollination,” Brantley said. “We’ve kind of created this need to have them.”
However, while honeybees are incredibly important for the pollination of European crops in the United States, they can negatively affect the pollination efforts of native bees, which are just as important.
“Honeybees do push out the native bees,” Brantley said. “Our native plants do need our native bees, we have orchard bees, and blue native bees … carpenter bees are another good example of a native bee.”
At the end of the day, the fight between European honeybees and native bees in the United States is a potentially unsolvable problem, due to the country’s focus on both native crops and European crops. However, one thing they both have in common ties back into pollinator decline.
According to a 2017 report by the Center for Biological Diversity, at least 749 species of bees native to North America are declining, and nearly one in four native bee species are at an increased risk of extinction.
Honeybees, on the other hand, have seen some recovery in recent years, but beginning in 2006, they were threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD happens when most worker bees simply leave a colony behind and never return. The USDA says these incidents have not been reported for several years, but they were a major issue in the late 2000s.
While there are not any exact answers as to why native bees and European honeybees have experienced these issues, Brantley said there are a few theories.
“There’s mites that can cause a problem, pesticides that can cause a problem, and fungus,” Brantley said.
So, if this trend continues, and bee populations continue to decline, what would the world look like? Brantley said it would be a bit gloomy.
“I think we would be with, like, paintbrushes trying to move pollen from … flower to flower,” Brantley said. “We would just be missing so many fruits and vegetables, it would be a lot more expensive, the fruits and vegetables that would be available.”