(WBIR-Maryville) The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released new numbers related to the loss of honeybees.

Honeybees help produce about a third of the food Americans eat; but for years, they have been dying by the millions without a single explanation.

According to the USDA's survey, beekeepers lost 23.2% of the bees managed in honeybee colonies between October 2013 to April 2014. That's better than the average annual loss from winter 2012-2013, 30.5%, but still higher than beekeepers consider economically sustainable.

However, Tennessee's numbers appear to be higher.

Charlie Parton, president of the Tennessee Beekeepers Association, said out of the beekeepers in the state who reported their losses, the average ranged from 50% to 60%.

Parton currently manages 55 bee colonies on his farm in Maryville, compared to the 60-80 he usually runs.

"Well up until January everything looked pretty good and then starting toward the end of January, beginning of February, I started losing colonies pretty quick. And before the winter was over I'd lost 42 out of 70. So you do the math, that's well over 50%," Parton said.

Parton estimates the loss at about $10,000, not including the money made from honey production. He is focusing now on increasing his colonies for next winter.

Since 2006 bees have been disappearing in large numbers, called colony collapse disorder.

"Why here in Tennessee? And why now? And why I lost so many bees? It's like a perfect storm but there's no definitive answer. But it seems... the varroa mite is still the biggest problem and the viruses that they transmit," Parton said.

Honeybee experts also point to the use of pesticides by agrochemical companies.

According to Parton, in general, bees are not as healthy as they used to be when he first started beekeeping 35 years ago.

"If I wasn't so deep into beekeeping I'd almost give up because I'm the most discouraged I've ever been this year because I try to do the right things... and you still end up losing half of your bees. It's very discouraging," he said.

Despite it being a tough time for beekeepers, Parton said beekeeping is still a popular hobby in Tennessee.

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