In 2006, beekeepers began reporting a loss of 30 to 90 percent of their hives.
This phenomenon is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and as of now, researchers are still unsure of the cause of it.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nationally, the number of honey-producing colonies has dropped from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million now.
"There are many reasons being considered for the problem, including drought and the arrival of two parasitic mites in the United States starting in the mid-1980s," say USDA representatives.
Among the potential triggers being investigated by researchers are environmental chemicals. Penn State scientists analyzing pollen, wax, adult bees and brood (larvae) have found the presence of dozens of chemicals, including pesticides used by agricultural producers to protect crops and by beekeepers to control hive pests such as parasitic mites.
According to the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, beekeepers lost 36 percent of their managed colonies this year. Last year, beekeepers lost 31-percent of their colonies.
Many fruits and vegetables require the work of honeybees. Blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, pears, apricots and almonds, for example, require the work of pollination.
And, the cost of pollination has risen dramatically. This year, apple growers paid about $65 per colony of bees, compared with $35 to $45 in the past. A typical apple orchard requires one colony per acre to achieve adequate pollination. Last year, apple growers harvested about 21,500 acres.
USDA experts are predicting that later this year, pumpkin growers could pay $95 to $105 per colony, compared to $55 to $65 last year.
In fall 2007, a research team from Penn State also reported a strong correlation between CCD and the presence of Israeli acute paralysis virus, making it another prime suspect in the cause of the disease.
While researchers struggle to define the problem, the cost of pollinated products continues to rise. As a result many companies are jumping on the bandwagon trying to help find the cause of the disease before costs for their products go up any further.
Ice cream maker Haagen-Dazs is among the companies that have pledged money for research and begun efforts to help save the bees.
The honeybee problem affects about 40 percent of Haagen-Dazs' 73 flavors, including banana split and chocolate peanut butter, because of ingredients like almonds, cherries and strawberries that rely on honeybees for pollination.
The ice cream company has even created a Web site to educate people about honeybees and how to help. To access the site go to www.helpthehoneybees.com.
In the meantime, expect the cost of foods requiring pollination to continue to rise.