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The bee hero: Fighting the largest die-off of bees in U.S. history

April 10, 2013|By John M. Glionna

This being Utah, the self-proclaimed Beehive State, Darren Cox is an expert in -- what else -- bees.

Civic fathers use the term for the population’s strong work ethic, but Cox deals with the stinging, honey-producing real McCoy.

Now the fourth-generation bee farmer is trying to use his recognition as this year's national beekeeper of the year to focus attention on a major threat to the industry: colony collapse disorder.

Cox, 48, who lives in Logan but has 5,000 hives in Utah, California’s Central Valley and Wyoming, received the award from the American Honey Producers Assn. earlier this year.

This year, the die-off at Cox’s hives topped 70%, part of a nationwide trend he calls the largest die-off of bees in U.S. history. So what’s killing all those insects?

“It’s pathogens and viruses that are caused by pesticides,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Cox is working to stop colony collapse disorder, which wipes out thousands of colonies each year and threatens the pollination of fruits, nuts and vegetables that people depend on.

Colony collapse disorder, first recognized in 2006, has destroyed colonies at a rate of about 30% a year, agricultural officials say. No one has determined its cause, but most researchers point to a combination of factors, including pesticide contamination, poor nutrition and bee diseases.

Cox brings his bees to the three states each year to help in orchard pollination of crops such as almonds, cherries and citrus.

“This bee die-off is having an effect on food production,” he told the Times. “This year we didn’t have enough honeybee pollinators to meet demands of almond growers in California.”

Cox, who sits on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide dialogue committee and helped form the National Honeybee Advisory Board, urges farmers to spray crops with pesticides at night instead of daytime when bees are more active.

Cox's family started keeping bees in St. George in the late 1800s, and Cox Honey was incorporated as a family business in 1929. Cox took over operation of Cox Honey from his father, Duane Cox, in 2002.

All those years later, bees still give him a buzz.

“They’re incredible creatures – even the wings of stealth bombers are derived from bees. They have a protein in their bodies that’s used in AIDS prevention – even cancer.”

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