9:41am

Fri February 21, 2014
Argiculture

Cold winter could mean fewer bees to pollinate fruit come spring

This winter’s cold temperatures are creating tough survival conditions for honeybees. Come spring, the bees will be relied on to pollinate upstate New York apple, cherry, and other fruit trees.

Mike Martino began the winter with a hundred bee colonies on his Honey Hill apple orchard in Chittenango. He estimates he’ll lose about 30 colonies by spring time. He’s hoping the prolonged frigid temperatures of the past few months don’t kill off more.

When it’s cold, the bees have a harder time flying and need to eat more honey to keep warm. If they run out of honey, "they’ll starve to death and that’s obviously not a good sign. If the bees are dead in the spring, it’s hard to do anything with them", Martino said.

He also rents his bees out to neighboring orchards. With bee populations already declining in recent years, the damage to hives this winter could hurt fruit production this year.

"There’s a lot of farms that depend on my bees for their crops. And generally I probably need somewhere between 30 and 40 colonies to pollinate existing farms that I’m working with," Martino said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) visited Martino’s farm Thursday to promote aspects of the recently-passed Farm Bill that could assist fruit farmers recover their losses from the unusually cold winter. Schumer also called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quickly release more aid to orchard growers and beekeepers.

Schumer says the upstate New York will qualify for additional disaster assistance if the state applies for it.