The Times West Virginian

July 13, 2014

Honeybees important part of agriculture

By Richard Babich
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Despite being insects, honeybees are an important part of agriculture.

Bees are involved in fertilizing many fruit-bearing crops. Some plants need these bees to produce food that humans consume.

“Pollinization is the process where pollen ... needs to be transferred to the stigma. That’s going to enable fertilization,” West Virginia University Extension entomologist Dr. Daniel Frank said. “What honeybees do is help with that pollination.”

The plants provide nectar to the bees, while the bees allow the plant to produce seeds.

“Without pollination, you’re not going to get a good crop. That’s why honeybees are so important to agriculture,” Frank said. “They’re domesticated, so people can move them throughout an agricultural system to different farms. People basically rent bees so they can have their crops pollinated.”

Some of those seeds come in the form of edible fruits and vegetables.

“The apple crop out in the Eastern Panhandle requires honeybee pollination. They need to bring in honeybees to ensure that they have ample (pollinization),” WVU professor Dr. Jim Amrine said. “They also grow other fruits in the Eastern Panhandle — peaches, pears (and) cherries. All these require pollination.”

Honeybees can also assist individuals who are not growing commercial crops.

“Just about every farmer in the state would like to have bees near their farm,” Amrine said.

“You can consider (bees) domesticated because we’re rearing them. We’re moving them around. We get products from them (such as) honey and beeswax,” Frank said. “They can be considered a domesticated insect because of those qualities.”

Frank said farmers will either rent bees or have their own honeybee farm.

According to Amrine, California almond farmers annually bring in beekeepers and their bees. The flowers of the almond must be fertilized for the seed to be produced.

“When (almond trees) need pollination in February, they bring in somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million beehives to pollinate that crop,” Amrine said. “Without honeybees, there will be no almonds. So if you enjoy almonds in your dinner or in your candy bar, remember the honeybee.”

Bees are also brought in to fertilize alfalfa, a process that indirectly supports humans.

“Farmers can plant alfalfa in their pastures to produce better-quality animals and better-quality milk products,” Amrine said. “You would think beef cattle and dairy cattle don’t need honeybees, but, boy, that alfalfa is an important part of their diet.”

Bees provide products for people as well.

According to West Virginia Department of Agriculture apiary inspector Wade Stiltner, bees pollinating plants benefit the wildlife and scenery that tourists enjoy seeing.

Honeybees also produce in another way for humans.

“There’s over a million dollars’ worth of income in an average year of honey (sales) in West Virginia,” Stiltner said.

Email Richard Babich at rbabich@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @rbabichTWV.