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January 21, 2018
Hive rustlers: Thefts sting Florida beekeepers

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A bee box typically weighs 60 pounds or more and houses at least 50,000 bees.

Southwest Florida Roundup

Hive rustlers: Thefts sting Florida beekeepers

Amy Martinez | 11/28/2016

In May, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a theft at a remote wooded area in Lehigh Acres. A local beekeeper told deputies that someone had stolen about $4,500 worth of hives. Tire tracks found nearby appeared to be from the thief’s vehicle.

A month later, deputies responded to another report of a beehive theft — someone cut through a fence on a Cape Coral property and made off with 100 wooden bee boxes. That theft was followed by a series of heists at several commercial beekeeping sites in the area that netted hundreds of hives worth more than $150,000. The sites’ owner, Wonderful Bees, part of a California-based firm called Wonderful Co., offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. A criminal investigation remained under way in October.

The thefts highlighted a littlepublicized aspect of Florida’s agricultural sector — large-scale commercial beekeeping. The state is home to nearly 4,000 registered beekeepers and more than 500,000 hives. Florida ranks among the top three states in both honey production and pollination.

The stolen bees also reflect a trend: Over the past decade, a combination of parasites, pesticides and the mysterious colony collapse disorder have caused widespread bee losses.

Those losses (along with increased costs to keep bees alive) mean higher fees for commercial beekeepers, who rent hives to farmers, who need the bees to pollinate their crops. It’s big business: U.S. fruit and nut growers, for example, spend more than $500 million each year on pollination services.

Gene McAvoy, a regional vegetable agent with the University of Florida, suspects the thieves are either other beekeepers or budding apiarists who know how to handle the insects. He believes the stolen hives were sold to unscrupulous pollination service providers. To disguise the thefts, the hive boxes may have been repainted and scraped of any identifying marks.

For their part, beekeepers are stepping up security patrols and fitting hives with tracking devices, McAvoy says.

“In terms of crime, this is not real high on the sheriff’s priority list,” he says. “But to individual beekeepers, it’s huge. That kind of inventory loss has to hurt your bottom line.”

Innovation

Israeli Startups

Israel punches well above its weight when it comes to launching tech startups. But a country with only 8.4 million people provides limited opportunities for sales growth. A new accelerator program aims to lure Israeli startups to Florida. The Tampa Jewish Community Centers & Federation has created the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, a three-to-four-month program for Israeli startups interested in doing business in the U.S. Last summer, the state Department of Economic Opportunity awarded the accelerator $1 million. Six Israeli startups will take part in the first program, which begins in February in Tampa.

Players

Cooley

Duggan Cooley, former head of the United Way of Pasco County, became executive director of the Pinellas Community Foundation, replacing Julie Scales, who announced her retirement a year ago.

» Snell Engineering Consultants named Curtis Ross managing principal.

Business Briefs

BONITA SPRINGS — Miamibased Lennar bought home builder WCI Communities for $643 million.

CHARLOTTE COUNTY — The county school board approved a public charter school for Babcock Ranch, a master planned community under construction near Fort Myers.

FORT MYERS — Florida Gulf Coast University launched a genomics research institute.

LAKELAND — Lakeland Regional Health joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network, enabling patients and medical staff to tap into Mayo Clinic expertise at no additional cost.

POLK COUNTY — A leak of contaminated water through a sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate plant will cost the company $20 million to $50 million to mitigate.

ST. PETE BEACH — The Trade Winds Resort proposes adding a 12-story hotel and parking garage on a three-acre site.

ST. PETERSBURG — Intellitech, a manufacturer of machinery used in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, moved its headquarters from Maryland to St. Peters burg, where it plans to create 15 jobs and invest $2 million. Contract electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit is laying off 400 workers worldwide, including nearly 100 in St. Peters burg, where it has about 3,000 employees. The state Department of Environmental Protection launched an investigation into sewage discharges in the wake of flooding associated with Hurricane Hermine. The city dumped about 150 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into local bays.

TAMPA — Iron Bow Technologies, an information technology company based in Chantilly, Va., plans to create 170 jobs at a new customer service center in Tampa.

Strategic Property Partners proposed demolishing Channel side Bay Plaza, an outdoor shopping complex downtown, to make way for a waterfront park, restaurants and condos.

The National Cancer Institute awarded Moffitt Cancer Center its top designation, “comprehensive cancer center,” which comes with $17 million in additional funding over the next five years. Chicago mortgage services firm Fay Servicing will create 100 jobs at a new regional headquarters in Tampa. Velocity Resource Group, a human resource management firm previously based in Illinois, will create 50 jobs at a new headquarters in Tampa.

Tampa International Airport secured $5.3 million in federal grants to install energyefficient directional LED signs and new markings on taxiways to improve safety. The airport also announced that Icelandair will begin direct flights between Tampa and Reykjavik.

Tags: Southwest, Agriculture

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