SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | The buzz in the bee world may have you believing the world's pollinator is being droned out.
"Bee-mageddon," the first word in a headline from the Reuters news service in May 2013 invited readers into a story on how bee deaths threatened the U.S. with a food disaster. Some 10 million beehives, the article noted, had died out since 2006.
Dr. Duane Bajema, a Dordt College agriculture professor, doesn't necessarily buy the buzz. He's a master beekeeper. He teaches beekeeping. He has watched and raised bees for decades, been stung more than 100 times. He remains in awe of their power, their activity and the benefits they provide in pollinating all sorts of crops, plants and flowers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports honeybees pollinate eight of every 10 flowering crops, plants that make up about one-third of what humans eat.
Rumors of the bees' demise, Bajema contends, are a bit short-sighted.
"The number of (bee) colonies has been increasing," he says. "The sky isn't falling."
Bajema's next class begins Thursday. In it, he'll detail the time, expense and sacrifice needed in starting a beekeeping enterprise. This isn't a get-rich-quick avocation. In fact, for many, it's not get-rich-at-all, even though demand for bees has never been stronger.
"It's break-even for me," says Bajema, a beekeeper since the early 1970s. "I never have done it to make money."
In past classes, Bajema has been direct in his introduction. He wants to educate beginning beekeepers who are there by commitment, not simply to satisfy a curiosity.
"I start by telling them they're all strange people," says Bajema, 64, a native of Hills, Minn. "I look at them and say strange people are willing to get stung while losing money. I tell them they'll work at it and they'll be disappointed."
For Bajema, the economic impact of honey sales and honey use has his attention. This is one Northwest Iowa who tracks almond growing trends and the effect it has on bees.
"Almond growers in California boost supplies and require the use of more bees for pollination," says while examining a graph he'll present to new students.
Past classes have seen students coming from as far away as Stickney, S.D., a three-hour drive from Sioux Center. Bajema has also helped beekeepers in Northwest Iowa towns such as Merrill, Sibley and Oyens get their start.
"I've taught the class twice before and I'd say we have 25 people out there raising bees," he says.
The class from 2013 still communicates and is attempting to start a beekeeping club.
"They're not done learning and that excites me," says Bajema, who can still find himself sitting before one of his 12 hives watching bees ventilate the structure. He sees guard bees protect the queen while other bees bring in pollen in various colors.
"The hive is governed by pheromones," he says. "It's an odor. If the rest of the bees don't accept a queen, they can destroy her."
The culture calls for one queen per hive, a queen who lays up to 1,000 eggs per day for three to four weeks at a time, depending on temperature, nectar flow, pollen production and more.
Bajema stresses to his students that bees pamper and groom the queen as long as she produces.
"When her production ceases or falls off, they kill her," he says.
The goal is to perpetuate the hive.
In that sense, Bajema says, bees continue to do their job. Whether bees will disappear entirely, as some have warned, Bajema can't predict. The question keeps him seeking, searching for answers. And, ultimately, additional questions.
"I am not about to save the world," the beekeeper says. "Bee numbers may be down (in some areas). We have mites, we have colony collapse disorder. It's also about price. It costs money to raise bees."
The monetary expense alone keeps many from diving into hives.
"It's harder and harder to care for bees," he concludes.
And that reason alone may be a big reason for the negative buzz.
"Is it intense agriculture (and widespread use of insecticides)?" he asks. "Is it climate change?
Bajema got hooked on this hobby and learning pursuit while serving an ag development group called World Renew as it diversified the economy and food choice for locals in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1970 through beekeeping.
"I cannot say bees are disappearing," says Bajema. "I can't say they aren't, either."