Farmers turn to renting pollinators as bee population declines

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As the bee population continues to decline, the multi-billion dollar agriculture business across the country and in North Carolina faces a dilemma.

Farmers are now bartering and renting bees to ensure their yearly crop.

Danny Page owns Page Farms in Raleigh. His farm has been in the family for generations.

And a slice of his farmland is dedicated to strawberries where folks pick their own. Three acres for Page produces tens of thousands of pounds of sweet fruit.

"We wouldn't have as much produce," Page said, "The wind pollinates some, but the main thing is the bees."

Page has a barter agreement in place with a local bee keeper. Page sells the bee keepers honey and offers strawberries for the price of pollination.

In Mebane, there's another type of farm. Perhaps one Page would have to utilize if not for his barter agreement.

Dr. Jeff Lee showed ABC11 his stack of beehives with his name clearly printed on the side. "I use different shades of green for the beehives because it deters theft."

Dr. Lee earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Duke in 1996.

The product here is not fruits or vegetables, but instead bees.

Dr. Lee initially got into the bee business to sell honey. His business model changed when just over a decade ago his phone was ringing not for honey, but for the bees.

"It's flattering and scary at the same time," Lee said. "There aren't enough bees to pollinate."

Lee not only rents his bees to some 50 farmers in North Carolina, but to farmers across the nation.

A semi load of Lee's Bees just returned from California- some 900 hives- after a long season pollinating almonds in California. Soon a load of bees will head north to pollinate blueberries.

Lee says the demand from farmers for bees is only increasing as the population continues to fall. "It's difficult for bees to survive in the wild anymore."

Lee says lack of nutrients from less plant diversity, pesticides, and mites are all enemies of the dying bee.

The mite is a vector for deadly viruses. "The viruses are mutating every year, and they're finding new viruses," Lee said.

If there are too many viruses, the bees will die.
Copyright © 2019 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.