Hot weather, environmental stress strike big blow to Italian honey producers

The next year in Italy will be a little less sweet after rising temperatures and other environmental changes have dealt another serious blow to the country’s honey producers. Analysts warn it could be part of a trend.

Italy is one of Europe’s top producers of honey. But Coldiretti, Italy’s largest agriculture industry group, has reported that a series of environmental factors have cut the country’s production in half compared to normal production levels. Following 2016 and 2017, this year will be the third — and most challenging — year for honey production in the last four years.

“Back in 2016, things were very difficult and I told myself that this was the worst year possible, that nothing else could go wrong,” Francesco Panella from the National Union of Italian Beekeeper Associations, told Xinhua.

“But then 2017 was even worse. We had a one-year improvement in 2018, but now this year is the worst I’ve seen in more than 40 years’ experience in this sector.”

Panella said that problems, which are not completely understood by researchers, go beyond a simple case of warmer weather having an impact on the health of honey bees.

“There are invisible stresses on bee populations that we are only beginning to understand well,” he said. “Flowering plants that the bees depend on are blooming at the wrong times, or they are producing less nectar or in some cases no nectar at all. Poor land-use practices are also having an impact on flowering plants, which contributes to bee populations starving.”

Panella is among the expert analysts who look at honey production and the health of bee colonies as early indicators of a much larger problem, one the world is just starting to feel.

“Almost all scientists agree that fragile ecosystems like those of honey bees can be like a warning sign,” Panella said. “What is happening to the bees now will happen to other species and eventually to us.”

Even without the wide-reaching implications of the trend harming honey bees, this problem is hitting Italy at what would already be considered a difficult time, with slow economic growth, falling exports, and eroding industrial production.

According to Lorenzo Bazzana, head of Coldiretti’s economic division, the drop in honey production in Italy means the country will produce around 20 million kilograms less honey this year than it would under normal circumstances. The economic impact, Bazzana said, will be well over 100 million euros (110 million U.S. dollars) this year alone.

“Given the size of the entire Italian economy, 100 million euros is a relatively small part,” Bazzana said. “But this is only one part of the agriculture sector. The impacts will get bigger and bigger.”

Earlier this year, Coldiretti issued a warning that warmer temperatures and the increased frequency of extreme weather Italian farmers experienced this year would become more common. The group warned farmers to take steps now to prepare for the trend.

“We could say the same thing about honey producers,” Bazzana said. “But the problem is it is not completely clear what honey producers can do to lessen the impacts.”