Delaware County commissioners on Jan. 24 renewed an annual $5,000 contract with the county apiarist, to ensure the local bee population remains healthy.

Delaware County commissioners on Jan. 24 renewed an annual $5,000 contract with the county apiarist, to ensure the local bee population remains healthy.

"It's routine county business, but it's one of those issues that is important because of the pollination of the crops, fruits and nuts and vegetables and such," said commissioner Ken O'Brien. "People take it for granted, but there are several diseases that go around that affect the colonies. That could affect our food supply if it was not taken care of."

O'Brien said Delaware County has the second largest beehive population in Ohio.

"Out of 145 apiaries in the county, last year (the apiarist) inspected 136 of them, with 685 colonies in those inspected apiaries," O'Brien said. "Pickaway County had 834 inspected, but other than that, he had the second most of all the 88 counties."

Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesman Andy Ware said the state asks counties to appoint an apiarist and to report the inspection results. Beekeepers are required to register beehives for inspection.

Ware said he would not call county apiarists and registration mandates; no penalties exist for failing to comply with the request.

"If you have a colony, you are expected to register with the state, in large part because bees are so vital for pollination for so many different needs," Ware said." That's why there are these protections in place. There are so many different diseases impacting honeybee populations. It's a health program that identifies where problem areas are, provides outreach and provides information to beekeepers on how to protect their colonies."

Ware said the bee inspection program has been active for as long as anyone can remember, at least since before he joined the department in 1993.

"This has been true at least for 20 years and before then," Ware said. "The department when I joined was very concerned with the health of bee populations throughout the state."

In 2009, the last year for which data have been compiled, Delaware County showed 28 diseased hives. Beekeepers are given training and information to minimize such infections.

"Having this information is helpful for the state to be able to combat these issues," O'Brien said.