Beginning this year, Chandler Hill Honey folded.
Over the winter, all of the bees kept by husband-and-wife team Glenn Hindbaugh and Nancy Hellman, of Boyne Falls, died.
The two kept fewer hives than a commercial beekeeper -- between 12-20 -- but still, that produced about two tons of honey for them.
"There's two things to managing bees: producing it, and selling it. If you can't go out and sell it, you're stuck with a whole lot of honey," said Hindbaugh.
And they sold out their doors, to friends, to the farmers market in Gaylord and they used to sell to the Grain Train, until this summer.
Zachary Huang, an associate professor of entomology at Michigan State University, said in Michigan, the primary killer of farmed honeybees is a parasite called nosema. But also a culprit is a combination of fungicides and pesticides.
"Some of the fungicides are not supposed to have toxicity to bees," said Huang. "But we know that fungicides which are not supposed to be toxic to bees make bees more sensitive to insecticides."
Particularly, said Huang, pesticides such as neonicotinoid pesticides. According to a report about neonicotinoids by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the insecticides work on plant pests such as aphids, leaf beetles, termites and fleas, and are widely available. Neonicotinoids work by absorbing into the plant so that insects which feed on the plant ingest the insecticide and die -- and insects such as bees that ingest nectar or pollen may also have increased exposure to the insecticide.
Too, the nutrition of the bees could be behind their deaths.
"If bees eat only one type of pollen, then they are going to be susceptible to parasites such as nosema," he said. "We transport bees a lot throughout our country.
Letting bees feed on one type of crop such as apples or blueberries makes the bees unhealthy."
Another Northern Michigan beekeeper, East Jordan's Jerry McKenney, said he hasn't had as much trouble with his bees. But he also doesn't ship his bees to other states, and he has treated for Varroa destructor mites, another parasite that causes harm to bees.
"I run about 50-55 (hives)," he said. "We're doing all right as far as the mites and that. ... The most people it affects are those who keep moving them in different parts of the country."
Hindbaugh didn't move his hives, and he only treated his hives for a short while. "But you had to wear Hazmat gloves to handle the miticide strip," said Hindbaugh.
They stopped treating their bees, and scientists think the combination of fungicides, pesticides and parasites may be having this impact on bees.
Huang says in Michigan, beekeepers have lost about 30-40 percent of their colonies over the winter.
"The population usually bounces back in summer, but at a cost to beekeepers," said Huang.
That cost Hindbaugh from keeping more than a few hives, if any at all. To replenish their beehives, keepers must buy colonies, which cost upward of $81 per colony -- which comes in a shipment of three pounds of bees, including a queen.
"If I have 1,000 colonies, that's going to be $81,000," said Huang.
Early this winter, Hindbaugh found that cost could have been higher. According to Hindbaugh, each of those packages cost between $90-100, and you had to order early -- by January. If you waited, the packages went up to $150.
Nancy Hellman said the two have just one hive left, a swarm they picked up from Boyne City.
"We're just grateful we have the pollination for our garden. Other people have said, 'Where are your bees?'" said Hellman. "I said, 'I'm sorry, I'm afraid it's humans who have killed them.'"
What affects wild bee populations is different from what affects honeybee populations.
Rufus Isaacs, professor of entomology at Michigan State University, said wild bee populations fluctuate naturally from year to year.
"We had the blazing drought in 2012, which I suspect has had a negative effect on some of the wild bee populations because of lower forage quality, and effects on their development," said Isaacs. "But, we do not have a long-term monitoring program to be able to say this with certainty."
Isaacs said though honey bees are experiencing winter losses, beekeepers have been able to provide enough colonies to pollinate Michigan crops.