Over the last decade, bees across the United States have experienced dramatic declines as the little-understood colony collapse disorder has swept across the country, threatening to undermine the essential pollination process that makes agriculture possible.
The origin of one the nation's most devastating mass honeybee die-offs, however, is no mystery at all.
Ben Hill Griffin Inc., one of Florida's largest citrus growers, has been found to have illegally used pesticides on its crops, state officials say, leading to the death of millions of bees. Allegations assert that, in an incident earlier this year, prohibited insecticide 'Montana 2F' was sprayed on citrus groves to target the pest, Asian citrus psyllids, but that foraging honeybees were decimated in the process.
A second occasion involved the company spraying pesticides later in the day than is allowed, killing countless bees which were in the act of pollinating the citrus trees.
According to a report in The Ledger, investigators from the Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Department determined that Ben Hill Griffin Inc. was indeed responsible for the bee deaths -- the first time a grower has been cited in this manner.
In response, the state has issued a fine of $1,500.
Two beekeepers, Barry Hart and Randall Foti, whose bees frequent Ben Hill Griffin citrus groves, say that losses from the illegal pesticide spraying amount to a combined $390,000 -- both in loss of bees and diminished honey production.
Hart and Foti see the fine as quite paltry, particularly given the scale of damage done to their livelihoods and the health of key pollinators, but they are optimistic that the recognition of wrongdoing in this case will bring to light the importance of healthy bee populations on agriculture and the environment at large.
''This could have been the best thing to happen," Hart said. "They have to make a living with citrus. I have to make a living with my honey. It boils down to the label is the law."
While there is still much to be understood about the root of colony collapse disorder, pesticide use is believed to be among the leading cause behind mass bee die offs -- a reminder of how improving crop yields through the use of chemicals can have unintended consequences, devastating agriculture's most important natural assets: the pollinators that make it all possible.