"It's not the dairy farmers' fault. It's basically the economics of dairy farming and how it's changed," Mraz said.
With a lack of forage, bees' immune systems are compromised, making other problems, like parasites and disease, harder to fight.
"Certainly loss of forage, mites and diseases will have an effect on the ultimate production in any given year," said Stephen Parise, an agricultural production specialist with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture who focuses on bees. But it's difficult to compare yearly data since honey crops vary because of weather and other factors, Parise said.
Commercial beekeepers have responded to the bee decline by changing their business practices. Mraz now supplements honey sales with bee venom sales and honey packaging. Honey production used to account for more than 50 percent of the business, but now it's a third, at most, he said.
"If we were just in the honey production alone, we'd be out of business," Mraz said.
Mraz said bees could get a boost if farmers would include alfalfa, white clover or alsike clover in pasture fields or strips of land around their crops. Sid Bosworth, a UVM Extension agronomist, is testing a seed blend that he hopes can feed bees but maintain enough nutrition for cows, thereby helping both industries.
But time may be running out for the battered bee populations.
"I don't know if individual efforts will happen fast enough to make a difference," Mraz said.