Honey bee population decline getting federal focus

money-newlinksBig money is being invested in saving the declining U.S. honey bee population. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced it is providing $8 million to help increase the important pollinators’ population.

And in a White House memorandum titled New Steps to Protect Pollinators, Critical Contributors to Our Nation’s Economy, President Obama has directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA to co-chair a new Pollinator Health Task Force to identify ways to protect and restore pollinators, including honey bees.

According to the memorandum, “the number of managed U.S. honey bee colonies dropped from 6 million colonies in 1947 to just 2.5 million today.” Pollinators, including honey bees, contribute more than $24 billion in pollination of crops, wildflowers, forests and gardens, including one-third of American’s food. The President’s 2015 budget allocated about $50 million for research to increase pollinator habitat and for increased funding to survey the impacts of pollinator losses.

“There are a host of issues believed to impact honey bee health,” said Tony Banks, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation commodity marketing specialist. “Virginia farmers rely heavily on honey bee pollination, so it’s encouraging that additional funding is being made available to research pollinator health.”

The USDA is offering Conservation Reserve Program incentives in five states with the largest commercially managed honey bee operations. The money will help farmers and ranchers establish new habitats for bee populations.

The new CRP pollinator incentive is designed to enhance current CRP land by allowing it to provide better access to pollinator forage. It allows farmers to replace cover crops with high-nutrition seed mixes that support blooming cycles of plants that benefit pollinators. That means honey bees, the pollinator workhorses of U.S. fruit and vegetable agriculture, will have more blooms from which to collect nectar and pollen throughout the growing season.

According to the USDA, more than $15 billion worth of agricultural production depends on the health and well-being of honey bees.

“USDA’s effort to install wildflowers and other blooming plants on CRP land should enhance foraging opportunities for pollinators,” Banks said. “If commercial beekeepers can place their hives in close proximity to the new plantings, it could increase the honey bees’ ability to rest as well as feed and help condition the bees for overwintering.

“This could create a unique research opportunity to study foraging impacts on bee health, the results of which could have application in Virginia and across the country.”

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