Honeybee losses in Massachusetts last winter were roughly 40 percent.
That's according to Hannah Whitehead, a honeybee specialist at UMass Amherst.
And that figure is consistent with winter loss for beekeepers across the U.S., according to a June report from the Bee Informed Partnership.
While honeybee loss is a challenge, Whitehead said she's actually more concerned about what the loss may mean for the future of beekeeping.
“When beekeepers have losses, there are ways they can make up those losses — by dividing and splitting colonies,” she said. “We’re more worried about beekeeping being a viable economic strategy and business model for people to make a living.”
Beekeeper Angela Roell at Yarde Bird Bees in Montague said multiple problems usually contribute to hive losses: pesticides, parasitic mites, destruction of habitat — and unpredictable weather.
“Wintering ability can be really variable depending on the type of winter we get here in western Massachusetts,” Roell said. “And due to climate change, we really can't predict that. So it's very difficult, as a beekeeper, to prepare for what is going to happen.”
Dan Conlon at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to selectively breed honeybees that groom mites off each other.
“We’re sort of speeding up natural selection,” he said. “We’re selecting the bees that show the highest level of that, and then we will raise more bees from those breeding lines.”
Massachusetts beekeepers advise local people to limit pesticide use, and to plant wildflowers and support local honey producers.