USDA gets serious about saving bees

Pollinators are a vital part of agricultural production. In the United States, more than one-third of all crop production – 90 crops ranging from nuts to berries to flowering vegetables - requires insect pollination. Managed honey bee colonies are the country's primary pollinators, adding at least $15 billion a year by increasing yields and helping to ensure superior-quality harvests.

Secretary Perdue and Karen Pence unveil a honey bee hive at the Vice President’s residence. Steps like this, combined with research, are vital to pollinator health.

However, beekeepers have been steadily losing colonies. The number of honey bee hives in this country has decreased from 6 million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million today.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue declared June 19-25 as “National Pollinator Week” to help call attention to these losses, which are caused primarily by biological and environmental stressors.

On June 6, Secretary Perdue joined Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, to announce the installation of a honey bee hive on the grounds of the Vice President’s residence in Washington. They encouraged Americans to also consider setting up hives where possible, or at least to plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in their gardens and yards.

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service is conducting research to improve the nutritional health of bees, to control the Varroa mite and other pests and pathogens, and to understand the effects of pesticides on colonies. They are setting up long-term studies to determine causes and evaluate treatments for Colony Collapse Disorder and other kinds of bee mortality, and they are establishing a bee gene bank to help breed traits such as resistance to pests or diseases and pollination efficiency.

The National Institute for Food and Agriculture is funding important research at land-grant universities in this area. For example, University of Nevada researchers have are experimenting with a virus that attacks a bacterial disease that affects honey bees. Meanwhile, Michigan State University scientists are developing sustainable pollination strategies such as enhancing the effect of bee-friendly wildflowers.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service, working with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have begun taking a nationwide survey of bee health that sets baseline values for pest and disease prevalence. The U.S. Forest Service and the Farm Service Agency has been creating and restoring hundreds of thousands of acres of pollinator habitat, while the Natural Resources Conservation Service has provided financial assistance to landowners to protect or restore 30,000 acres of private lands.

Source: USDA

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