LEWISBURG – Growing up in the apiary business, Davey Hackenberg has seen the industry’s decline first hand as he struggles to maintain the business handed down to him by his father.
“Back when I started in it, it was more lucrative, I guess you could say. Now I’m just worried about what it’s going to be in the future,” Hackenberg said. “With all the chemical issues coming on, it’s been a lot of stressful years.”
After years of prosperity, Hackenberg and his father Dave Sr., the business’s founder, began to see a drastic decline in their bee population around 2004.
This was shortly after the agriculture industry changed from contact sprays to systemic pesticides, he said. The unfortunate side-effect meant that instead of chemicals simply being on the surface of the plant, now they are inside the pollen itself.
The bees then consume the chemicals while pollinating the crops and, in turn, infect their hive and bee generations of hives to follow.
The result is something similar to the Aids virus in humans, Hackenberg said. It breaks down the immune system of the bees so that other simple ailments, often transmitted by mites, can become deadly.
Hackenberg’s father started keeping honey bees in his backyard during high school. Seeing how lucrative the business could be at the time, he founded Hackenberg Apiaries and for a while saw success.
In its heyday, the business sold over 300 barrels of honey each year, but now averages roughly 100 barrels a year. The large warehouse, which was built to accommodate a large storage volume, now handles about a third of what it once processed.
“Some days I feel like a little bit of a failure because I can’t keep my bees alive and my dad reminds me that it’s not my fault, there are issues with the environment that we can’t control,” Hackenberg said. “It’s hard to remember that when you go into a hive and wonder why it’s dead, what did you do wrong.”
Hackenberg splits his time between his Pennsylvania and a number of hives along the East Coast. He is a staple in the Central Pennsylvania region, but the future of the company is still uncertain.
Solutions to the bee decline can be made by changes to the pesticide use, but there has been little progress so far, he said.
“Just look around you. What’s in your environment? We’ve gone from hay and alfalfa and clover fields to corn and soybeans,” which are self-pollinating crops and offer no sustenance for bees, Hackenberg said.