The Value of Honey Bees as Pollinators of U.S Crops – A Cornell University Study (Year 2000)

Based on a study of the figures published by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the USDA, interviews with beekeepers and researchers we estimate that there were 2,500,000 colonies rented for pollination purposes in 1998. This is up from 2,032,000 in 1989, representing a 22.8% increase. Most of this increase is explained by two phenomena. One is the growth of the almond industry in California, which accounts for an additional 300,000 of these colonies. The other is the population of the U.S which has frown approximately 10 percent in the last decade accounting for a 10 percent increase in food production and at the same time a need for an additional 200,000 colonies of bees. Most of these colonies were rented for use on 2 crops and in some cases 3.

For all of U.S agriculture, the marginal increase in the value attributable to honey bees – that is, the value of the increased yield and quality achieved through pollination by honey bees alone – was 9.3 billion in 1989, and is 14.6 billion today (2000). A 50 percent increase, between 20 and 25 percent of that increase is due to inflation. The rest is a result of an increased demand for pollinated food by an increasing population.

American agriculture has been blessed with a favorable climate and an abundance of natural resources including rich soils and readily available supplies of fresh water. Modern agriculture, with its mechanization and large farms, has taken full advantage of these gifts. Farmers in the united states produce an abundance of food that is nutritious, diverse, safe and inexpensive. All of these things are more true in this country than any other country in the world and they are more true today than at any other time in history. We continue to feed more people each year, while at the same time using less land to do so. Modern agriculture causes less erosion and returns more land to its natural status for use by wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts.

Honey bees are very much a part of the modern american agricultural picture. It is estimated that there are 2.9 million colonies in the U.S today (owned by beekeepers with five or more colonies). Over two million of these colonies are on the road each year to pollinate crops and to produce honey and beeswax. This represents a major change in the U.S agriculture since the first colonies of honey bees were rented for pollination on apples in New Jersey in 1909, and since the first migratory beekeeping for the purposes of honey production began in this country in the latter part of the 1800’s.

In 1989, Robinson, Nowogrodzki and Morse wrote a paper reviewing U.S pollination under the title The Value of Honey Bees as Pollinators of U.S Crops. This paper is her after referred to as the 1989 paper. The most widely cited figure from the 1989 paper is that the value of major U.S crops designated by Mcgregor(1976) as being dependent upon or benefited by bee pollination in 1985 was about 9.3 billion. There was an error in that table as regards the proportion of the U.S grape crop pollinated by honey bees that was due to an inability to report the value of various crops not reported, or not reported regularly by the U.S department of Agriculture. Another change over that paper is that is’s not thought that pumpkins and some squash, at least in most of the northeastern states, may be pollinated primarily by solitary, ground nesting bees rather than honey bees.

Today we estimate the annual value of increased agricultural production attributable to honey bee pollination at 14.6 billion versus 9.3 billion in 1987. This value comes in the form of both increased yields and superior quality.

This is a graph showing correlation between the number of hives and the output of agricultural production

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