More than 75 percent of the world’s food supply is dependent on pollination by bees, insects and other animals, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In addition, between $235 billion and $577 billion in food production worldwide is at least partly dependent on the activity of pollinators.
In the United States, honeybees are responsible for about $20 billion in food production and are necessary for pollinating many important crops, the American Beekeeping Federation reports.
The reason honeybees are so crucial is because they are the most manageable of the world’s pollinators, said local beekeeper Mike Rusnak, who maintains the hive at the Forest Preserve District’s Plum Creek Nature Center.
And because many beekeepers can travel with their hives, they are in high demand throughout the year, traveling across the United States to help pollinate the foods we eat every day. Take almonds, for example. In the winters, thousands of beehives are taken to California to pollinate the almond trees. These trees depend entirely on honeybees for pollination, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.
“In the United States, every beehive on wheels is in California at the end of February to pollinate almonds,” Rusnak said.
The timing of the bees’ arrival is important: If they arrive too early, they won’t pollinate the almonds, and they have to leave as soon as pollination is complete because the farmers spray the trees with chemicals that can harm the bees.
After almond pollination is complete, many of the beehives continue traveling throughout the United States on a mission to pollinate various crops, Rusnak said. They move to Washington to pollinate the apple trees, Oregon for the cherry trees, Michigan for the blueberry crop, Wisconsin for the cranberries and then many end up here in Illinois in July to pollinate the pumpkin crop.
Nuts and stone fruits (such as cherries, peaches and plums) are just a few examples of foods that are “totally dependent on bees,” Rusnak said. Without them, these foods would be much more expensive for consumers because the cost to produce them would be much higher.
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