North Dakota now is among about a dozen states, including Montana, where beekeepers report some of their bees are buzzing away from hives for good. The phenomenon, known as collapsing colony disorder, affects crops that depend on bees for pollination. Judy Carlson, the apiary inspector for the state Agriculture Department, said North Dakota beekeepers are returning to the state after using their bees elsewhere to pollenate cucumbers and almond and orange trees. A survey of 15 out of the 179 beekeepers in the state found about half had poor or disappearing hives, she said. “Some are reporting that they are losing 50 to 80 percent of their hives,” Carlson said. North Dakota, with an estimated 382,500 hives, led the country in honey production last year. “This is a really big deal for the honey industry here,” state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said. “It’s a real mystery because bees have an enormously strong homing instinct, but in this case, they are flying away and never coming back and nobody knows where they went.” Randy Verhoek of Bismarck said he lost half his 13,000 hives this year, costing him about $400,000. “We’d go out one day and find full boxes, and a week later they would just be gone,” he said. Verhoek said he lost money because he did not have his normal hive count for pollination in California almond orchards. He said he had to send weakened hives to Texas for rebuilding. Verhoek and Gackle beekeeper John Miller, with 10,000 hives, say the phenomenon of collapsing colonies may have many causes, including drought, disease and insecticides. Miller said neither scientists nor beekeepers understand what’s at the root of the collapsing colonies. He believes about a third of collapsing colony disorder is due to poor management by the beekeepers. “They aren’t following the new standards for hive husbandry,” Miller said. “Things have changed.” Carlson hopes government research will find ways to prevent collapsing colony disorder. “Our bees go to other states, so it affects everyone at some point,” she said. In March, a leading Montana beekeeper said his business was taking a hit from a big loss of bees, which he attributed to mites and collapsing colony disorder. Lance Sundberg, a professional beekeeper for 24 years and the operator of Sunshine Apiary in Columbus, said that in a span of about seven months ending in February, his hive inventory fell from 5,600 to 3,800.