SALEM — One in five of the state’s commercial honeybee colonies did not survive the winter, according to data Oregon State University released Monday.
The school’s experts say that if that kind of winter mortality continues, some professional beekeepers may not be able to stay in business.
Losing 10 to 15 percent of colonies is considered sustainable, Oregon State entomologist Ramesh Sagili said. But Oregon’s die-off rate last winter was 21.1 percent, near the average of 22 percent over the last six years.
Replacing lost colonies, which usually include around 50,000 bees, requires quite a bit of time and labor, he said. A beekeeper must purchase a new queen, then take a portion of the bees from a healthy colony.
“That’s one more reason I don’t see a new generation of beekeepers getting into beekeeping,” Sagili said. “It’s not survivable. If they keep losing at that pace, he or she as a new beekeeper probably won’t be in business for long.”
Oregon is home to 62,000 managed honeybee colonies, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, which tracks colonies. Honeybees are instrumental in pollinating a variety of crops, including pears, blueberries, cherries, apples and vegetable seeds.
Scientists blame pests, diseases, diet and pesticides for the higher rate of bee die-offs in recent years. Bees are susceptible to Varroa mites, which transmit viruses, and poor nutrition due to farming practices.
The Legislature this year created a task force to look at “pollinator health” and try to find ways to prevent bee die-offs.