Despite how hard they work, American honey bees can’t catch a break. Beekeepers across the US reported losing 44% of their colonies between April 2015 and April 2016, an early sign that honey production will likely continue its downward trend this year.
The number was detailed in a new report by The Bee Informed Partnership, which works with the US Department of Agriculture to better understand and track the state of honey bees. Since the early 1990s, honey production in the US has fallen by more than 30%.
The trend isn’t doing any favors for US consumers, who’ve been spending more per jar of honey as prices have steadily increased.
To be sure, honey bee colonies routinely die off during the doldrums of the winter season, but the declines during the last several years have scientists on edge—and without any real answers as to exactly why the bees are perishing at such high rates. (Some speculate an abundance of varroa mites as the root cause.) The numbers are particularly disheartening for US president Barack Obama, whose administration created a task force in June 2014 to try and ensure honey bee colonies remain at sustainable levels.
“We’re now in the second year of high rates of summer loss, which is cause for serious concern,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, project director for the Bee Informed Partnership in a statement. “Some winter losses are normal and expected. But the fact that beekeepers are losing bees in the summer, when bees should be at their healthiest, is quite alarming.”