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Ohio Beekeepers Seek Financial Aid From Congress

Honeybees that help pollinate Ohio's fruits and pumpkins are disappearing. Beekeepers are looking to get some relief in the next Farm bill. Sara Sciammacco has more from Washington.

Ohio beekeeper Bob Hooker knows what it is like to lose bees. His losses he says have been related to bad weather. For him it was easy to bounce back, he only maintains a handful of hives. He says large commercial beekeepers are in a far worse situation. One fellow I know commercial beekeeper in Ohio lost about 1,400 hundred out of 2,000 hives, so that is a very difficult thing on that scale to recover from." Says Hooker.

Hooker is waiting for scientists to get a handle on this mystery. There are a few theories. Scientists right now are exploring a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. It first became known in the United States in 2006. Others scientists believe the deaths are related to pesticide use and mites. Hooker loss of bees is a major concern because farmers rely heavily on bees for pollination.

There is something like 200 different crops in some honeybees do about 90 percent of that. Says Hooker.

The annual value of bees as pollinators is 15,000,000,000 billion dollars nationwide. The lack of bees has put stress on fruit farmer Emily Zass. She runs a fruit orchard in Maryland. She sells her apples and pears at this farmer's market in Washington DC. She says when she first starting farming nearly a decade ago, nature provided plenty of bees. Now she has to rent them. The supply and demand of bees has pushed prices up.

It used to cost something like 25 dollars a hive and the beekeeper would bring them in a truck put them where we want in the orchard and over time bees now cost over 40 dollars a hive and even now I think we have trouble finding bees to rent. Says Zass.

As a result consumers are paying more for fruits. Zass uses other insects to pollinate but says bees do a better job

I guess just because nature made them perfect. So just because we aren't always buying bees doesn't mean there aren't any bees, but there are less honeybees than before. Says Zass.

The cost of keeping bees healthy is also becoming expensive. Ohio Democrat Zach Space says Congress is setting aside tens of millions of dollars each year in the Farm bill for researching the colony collapse disorder.

No one wants a world in which there are no honeybees because of the implications that it has not just on the farming community, but plants, flowers generally. It is a serious issue one that is being addressed seriously by the bill. Says Space.

U-S Democratic Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown says more could be done.

We got money into the Farm bill for research, we need to do better on that because it really is going to affect tens of millions hundreds of millions, perhaps I don't know the number of bees, which means less crop yield which obviously means higher fruits and vegetable prices for people. Says Brown.

Beekeepers are asking Congress for a disaster aid program to keep those who have lost hives in business. David Mendes is with the American Beekeepers Federation.

I mean I have always heard the figure that there were 15 hundred and 2 thousand beekeepers in this country. As you lose beekeepers, you lose bees you won't get them back. SO we are asking for some sort of disaster program to try to help beekeepers during this difficult time. Says Mendes.

Given that the Farm bill has traditionally given billions of dollars to Ohio's soybean and corn producers - Mendes is less hopeful beekeepers will get disaster aid.

Beekeeping is a very very small industry. We don't have a lot of political clout. There is some discussion in the Farm bill. There is some numbers there. But until it is appropriated then it is probably not solid. Says mendes.

Lawmakers are looking to offset new costs in the Farm bill. They are likely to make spending cuts since President Bush has threatened to veto a bill that includes a tax increase. At stake is disaster aid - so it could be awhile before Ohio beekeepers get relief, if they get it at all. From Capitol News Connection in Washington Sara Sciammacco WOSU News