How to help: Northern California wildfire relief

Experts generate buzz about dangers facing key player in agriculture

SALT LAKE CITY -- Many of us have already started working on our gardens, but before you decide what to plant, you might want to consider some bee-friendly flowers.

Larry Lewis, a public information officer for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said bees are a key part of food production.

“What we’re doing is drawing attention to the importance of bees in our life,” Lewis said. “Thirty percent of the food that we consume is traced back in some way to pollination.”

Looking past a bee's painful stinger isn't always easy, and many people don't realize the insects are doing a lot more than buzzing around you and your flower garden.

“They perform an essential function of cross-pollinating plants,” said Stephen Stanko, an Apiary Inspector for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. “So not only native plants, but especially our fruits and vegetables. So they're responsible for over three-fourths of our production of fruits, vegetables and nuts.”

In honor of National Agriculture Week, the Utah Department of Food and Agriculture invited elementary students to come learn about the anatomy of bees and how a beehive works.

“One of the great things we do is a cross-pollination activity,” Stanko said. “So we have our bee going around to the kids who are flowers, and the flowers are giving the bee pollen, and then also accepting some of the pollen so they can get a diverse bunch of pollen, and they are cross-pollinated at that point.”

The Department of Agriculture says the bee population continues to decline throughout the year, forcing beekeepers to take expensive steps.

“So when we hear that the population is down by thirty or forty percent, that’s a temporary decline that forces the beekeepers to increase the population by spending money, and that adds to the cost of honey,” Lewis said.

Bees face four major threats called the four P's: pathogens, parasites, pesticides and poor nutrition. But there are things you can do to help.

“The best thing that people can do for bees is to plant native flowers and to read the label on any pesticides that you buy and use,” Stanko said.