Texas Bee Keepers Ask Congress for Help

Janice Walker and her husband run a farm in Bell County, about 70 miles north of Austin. They typically manage aboutξ2,000 honey bees.

"We have probably had affects from this for the past couple of years, the year before last was really bad for us."

That year they lost nearly half of their bees. Walker thinks they got sick from pesticides that were used on the farmers crops.

"What we have experienced is when they are using nicotoids. They say it doesn't kill the bees, doesn't kill beneficial insects, but what they are finding is that they lose their memory and can't find their way back to the hive."

Scientists don't know for sure what is causing bees to disappear. They think they are suffering from colony collapse disorder. It has affected some of the states' 250 commercial beekeepers. Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar represents beekeepers in Frio County, about an hour southwest of San Antonio. He says Congress has set aside tens of millions of dollars in the Farm bill to study the cause.

"We do have a problem because I mean that is an industry that can be very sensitive. We need to look at the research need to find out exactly what's going on. And then once you find out what the cause is then what sort of remedy are you going to bring! in to address the problem? That has to be done on a quick time basis. "

Emily Zaas sells her apples and pears at this farmers' market in downtown Washington DC. She has to rent beehives to pollinate her fruits.

"It used to cost something like I think $25 a hive and then over time bees now cost over $40 a hive."

In Texas, there are twelve thousand fruit and vegetable growers like Zaas who rely on bees and their costs keep rising. Some lawmakers are worried about the nation's food supply. When farmers pay more, so do consumers. Beekeepers say Congress can do more. David Mendes of the American Beekeepers Federation lobbied lawmakers to include a disaster relief program in the Farm bill. He says it could help beekeepers stay in business.

"I mean I always heard the figure here was between 1,500 and 2,000 beekeepers in this country. I think that number is shrinking."

Lawmakers pay out tens of billions of dollars in subsi! dies to cotton and wheat growers. Texas crop growers alone got 3.5 billion dollars in three years. Mendes say beekeepers want some of that cash.

"Beekeeping is a very very small industry. We don't have a lot of political clout."

Senate and House lawmakers want to complete the Farm bill sometime after Easter recess. In the meantime, consumers can expect to pay a little more for their fruits and vegetables this summer.

From Capitol News Connection in Washington Sara Sciammacco Houston Public Radio News

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