It's a tough time for the honey business. The North American honeybee has been decimated by an epidemic known as colony collapse disorder. "It's like death by a thousand cuts," says Ted Dennard, CEO of the specialty honeymaker Savannah Bee Company. The crisis is just the latest in a series of bee die-offs. In the mid-1980s, a parasite called the vampire mite was the culprit. In the 1990s, it was a South African beetle.
Figures from the Department of Agriculture show bee colony losses of about 30 percent for each of the past two years. Colony reductions along the East Coast, the section of the country in which Savannah Bee sources its signature tupelo honey, have been described by researchers as "alarming."
Still, small companies like Savannah Bee are coping. To mitigate losses, Dennard's suppliers have been doing more "splits," a technique in which beekeepers divide their strongest hives in two and introduce another queen. That seems to be working for now. Savannah Bee's honey supply has remained steady, and sales are up this year. The problem is that scientists have no idea how long the epidemic will last or how severe it will become. "You have to hit this from as many fronts as you can," says Dennard. "It's a constant battle against nature."