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Beekeeper of the year searching for answers to dying bees

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This last winter, I went through the largest die off I’ve ever experienced. My die-off this past winter was at 70 percent. This isn’t rocket science. It’s much more complicated than that. – Darren Cox

LOGAN — Darren Cox is the American Honey Producers Association's beekeeper of the year, the highest national honor for beekeepers. Now Cox is trying to use the recognition to find a solution to stop large populations of bees from dying.

"It was quite a surprise to be able to win it," Cox said. "Coming as a Utah boy from the Beehive State, it's pretty cool."

He's a Utah boy with a rich Utah heritage. Cox's family started keeping bees in St. George in the late 1800s. In 1929, Cox Honey was incorporated as a family business and Darren Cox is now keeping the family legacy alive.

Cox bought and took over operation of Cox Honey from his father, Duane Cox, in 2002. He manages between 4,000 and 5,000 hives of honeybees from his base in Cache County. And he and other beekeepers are facing one of their greatest challenges: colony collapse disorder.

"This last winter, I went through the largest die-off I've ever experienced," Cox said. "My die-off this past winter was at 70 percent. This isn't rocket science. It's much more complicated than that."

During die-offs, the queen and brood (young) remain at a hive, but hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees and eventually die.

Cox said colony collapse disorder is spreading nationwide, causing huge populations of bees to die.

The New York Times reported last week that the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating an increase in the die-offs which first surfaced in 2005. The agency sent investigators to the San Joaquin Valley in California where beekeepers reported losses far greater than in previous years.

That poses a threat to the nation's agricultural industry which relies on bees to pollinate crops.

Many beekeepers have theories to explain the large number of dying bees, including different pesticides and chemicals, but no solutions have yet been found to prevent the deaths. The EPA is expected to issue its report in May.

"When you get into your fruits, nuts and vegetables that require pollenization … that really gives the benefit that we need as humans to survive," Cox said. "This is where all of us, including our health officials, should take notice on what we can do to mitigate the effects to our livestock, to our pollinators."

He proposes that farmers only spray crops with chemicals during nighttime hours instead of daytime when bees are more active. Cox said something needs to change to prevent more dying bees.

Exposure to pesticides applied to crops is only one of several theories about the cause of colony collapse disorder. The EPA said other theories include the invasive varroa mite, which is a pest of honey bees, new or emerging diseases, poor nutrition, bee management stress or a combination of these factors.

Additional factors such as drought and migratory stress, brought about by the increased need to move bee colonies long distances to provide pollination services, may also play a role in colony collapse disorder.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

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