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Minn. Farmer Blames Pesticides For Big Bee Die Off

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As farmers get underway with their spring planting, some bee farmers in Minnesota are already counting their losses.

In the last couple days one major producer reported that thousands of honey bees suddenly died.

In 2005, Minnesota was the sixth largest honey producer in the nation. But since 2006, millions of bee colonies have died off in Minnesota and across the nation.

"Whatever it is, it's affecting the nervous system of the bees," said Rand Honl of Honl's Bees, Inc.

When Honl checked on his hives Tuesday morning, it wasn't the bees in the air that caught his attention but the ones on the ground.

Bee keeping runs in the family. Every spring Honl and his wife bring thousands of honeybees cross-country from Texas to Winthrop, Minn. Their honey is shipped across the country. But in more than 50 years of business, Honl has never seen this.

Their bees were fine last week, now most of the worker bees are gone.

Each bee box Honl has produces about 100 pounds of honey. Worker bees make all of the production possible.

Worker bees bring in the pollen, and Honl thinks by venturing into farm fields his bees were hit by pesticides.

"It's something to do with farm chemicals. Right now, you know, they're planting. They're spraying. It's got to be something to do with farm chemicals," Honl said.

And Honl believes he isn't alone. Other beekeepers across the country have reported similar problems. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture took samples of his dead bees, as did Bayer Crop Science, a company that makes pesticides.

It's still too early to determine what killed Honl's bees.

In a statement, Bayer said: "Reports of this kind should be carefully investigated. (We) understand the necessity for healthy bees as pollinators for agriculture and food production."

Whatever the cause, it's a major buzzkill for Honl's business.

"You see this, and it's just the pits, you know," said Honl.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported that there isn't one specific cause for the drop in bee colonies in the United States.

In addition to certain pesticides, the USDA says mass planting of a single crop and certain parasites have also been factors.

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