The best places in the USA for honey production are not as good as they used to be. This graph, using NASS data shows the trend of honey produced per colony, using the Dakotas as examples. Bees still go there, in fact most of the colonies managed for pollination in the USA spend their summers in the Upper Midwest, to replenish after pollinating crops, and (hopefully!) produce honey. It is said that some times of the year, there are more bee colonies in North Dakota than people! But in these same areas, the available forage for bees is undergoing the quickest conversion to soy and corn fields; crops grown so efficiently, that few blooming plants remain in or around the fields. Studies like this show how natural forage is key to providing bees the best nutrition, increasing production, winter survival, and making pollination grades. In February, almond growers are the first to depend on these bees to pollinate their orchards.
Bees are especially vulnerable to habitat depletion because there are still many gaps in our knowledge about honey bee nutrition. Most livestock systems are understood well enough that it is possible to manage animals in artificial conditions, using artificial diets, from their first day to their last. Not so with honey bees. Beekeepers can offer their bees supplemental feed (there are many formulations available) to push through dearth or intensive management, but there is no substitute for natural nutrition to grow and maintain healthy bees- artificial diets just are not there yet. PAm continues to invest in research to improve our knowledge about honey bee nutrition, and to create better supplemental diets. However, as we consider these landscape trends, it could be argued that we are being forced into doing the opposite of what is sustainable to keep healthy bees. Rather than supplementing a natural diet with sugar and protein supplements, as we lose natural forage we are depending more on incomplete supplements and hoping to add enough natural, clean forage to make up the difference. We can reverse that trend!