National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

Yes, there is a worker shortage out there in the orchards of California and it is reaching crisis proportions.

A worker bee shortage, that is. That’s the case, at least, if you have been reading popular media accounts about dwindling populations of bees and the dire warnings about what that means to fruit, vegetable and nut production in the U.S.

Popular media is brimming with stories about colony collapse disorder and the dire straits that the beekeepers and orchardists face in pollinating our nation’s food crops.

 Even more than stories about the problems with disappearing bees, reader comments on these stories inevitably lead to constant haranguing about the evils of Monsanto. Readers predict that, somehow, because of sins by the agri-business giant, we will soon be bereft of all crops that require pollination by bees. Coverage on the bee issue in The New York Times  featured 338 reader comments. Some suggested we go without all pesticides, pronto.

One NYT reader said:

Not to worry. We will always have plenty of rice and corn as they are wind pollinated. As for the hundreds of other crops that make up our food sources and are all threatened by this disease. I hear Monsanto is working on a cookbook on dishes prepared solely from rice and corn.

Monsanto is a convenient punching bag for any ag-related story line, I guess, but not the only popular culprit. Another comment talked of the deleterious health effects of electromagnetic fields, followed on by a reader opining about the insidious effects of aerosol sprays.

The thing is, this recurring story on the bee crisis doesn’t ever seem to correlate with big declines in actual fruit and vegetable production. And from the reports I hear, there were enough bees to pollinate the huge California almond crop again this year, despite fears to the contrary.

The health of our nation’s bee colonies is important, of course. Scientists must understand the numerous stresses that are too often resulting in the quick decimation of colonies. Regulators must decide what pesticides should be further restricted to protect bees.

Yet the skeptic in me says that there is too much hype and doom-saying on this issue, particularly by consumers. Before advocating for abandoning the advances of agriculture in the last 100 years, the general public needs to take a deep breath, open a can of readily-available smoked California almonds, and chill.