U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer criticizes a USDA decision that would halt the study of what's happening to the pollinators farmers rely on

HENRIETTA — It seems that no matter what beekeepers try, the numbers of bees are going down each year, a victim of a virus or pesticides or something else, according to Sam Hall, an octogenarian Canandaigua beekeeper whose pollinators are kept on a farm in Gorham.

Data collecting and study would help beekeepers learn why so many bees are dying off, Hall said.

“Nothing seems to be the silver bullet we’re looking for,” Hall said.

Add U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to those hoping a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to stop collecting data on honey bees and their decline won’t sting New York’s agricultural economy.

Schumer spoke Wednesday at a press conference at Tinker Nature Center in Henrietta about the federal government’s decision and called on the USDA to not only reverse course, but to increase work on at-risk bee populations.

Bees are vital for the economy in the Rochester and Finger Lakes area, which is one of the prime agricultural areas in the state and country, Schumer said.

“We all depend on bees, but the bees are dying off,” said Schumer, who was joined by beekeepers, local restaurants and farmers at the nature park, which also produces its own honey.

“There’s a severe crisis,” Schumer said. “We need to know why our bees are dying off.”

But in a “troubling” decision made last month, USDA officials said they would stop collecting critical scientific data for its Honey Bee Colonies report, which tracks active bee colonies, new colonies and lost colonies, Schumer said.

This comes at a time of “devastating” and “historic” population decline over several decades, including over the last season, Schumer said.

Beekeepers in New York state lost 17,700 honey bee colonies, according to the USDA’s 2017 report. In the first six months of 2018, New York beekeepers lost 7,000 colonies, Schumer said.

Here’s what’s at stake: According to the Agriculture Department, $205,160,000 worth of agricultural products were sold out of Ontario County in 2017. In Wayne County — which produces more apples than any other New York county — the figure is $221,295,000.

And bees are the buzz behind those numbers, and obviously drive the $8.6 million in honey sales reported in 2017.

According to Daniel Winter, a Wolcott beekeeper and president of the Empire State Honey Producers Association, the New York state bee mortality rate is 3% to 4% higher than other states.

A study is “critically important” to finding out the cause or causes as well as finding a way to reverse the trend, Winter said.

Schumer offered three possible theories for ending data collection: to save money; that the USDA and President Donald Trump administration officials are worried answers will show evidence of global warming; or pesticide use.

Dan Martello, owner of the Good Luck restaurant in Rochester, said he believes it has to do with global warming. The loss of bees because of it indirectly affects the price of food, Martello said.

Others believe the decline is a result of viruses carried by the Varroa mite, which without treatment, are “deadly” to bees, Hall said.

Rich Riedman, of Riedman Happy Hives in Canandaigua, treated his colonies for the mite last year and, helped by the weather this year, has not seen a decline in his bee numbers.

“But I could be an exception,” Riedman said.

The decision against collecting the data was a quiet one and a “dumb thing,” Schumer said.

“You don’t need to be a beekeeper to understand the benefit this insect has on our local economy,” Schumer said.