Yearly Survey Shows Better Results for Pollinators, but Losses Remain Significant
USDA Office of
Communications Press Release
USDA Announces Fall Summit on Bee Nutrition and Forage; Launches “Bee Watch” Website to Broadcast Bee Activity and Increase Public Awareness of the Role of Pollinators in Crop Production
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2014 - A yearly survey of beekeepers, released today, shows fewer colony losses occurred in the United States over the winter of 2013-2014 than in recent years, but beekeepers say losses remain higher than the level that they consider to be sustainable. According to survey results, total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide. That number is above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability, but is a marked improvement over the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013, and over the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent.
More than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as bees, to reproduce, meaning pollinators help produce one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.
“Pollinators, such as bees, birds and other insects are essential partners for farmers and ranchers and help produce much of our food supply. Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While we’re glad to see improvement this year, losses are still too high and there is still much more work to be done to stabilize bee populations.”
There is no way to tell why the bees did better this year, according to both Pettis and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland assistant professor who is the leader of the survey and director of the Bee Informed Partnership. Although the survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Bee Informed Partnership shows improvement, losses remain above the level that beekeepers consider to be economically sustainable. This year, almost two-thirds of the beekeepers responding reported losses greater than the 18.9 percent threshold.
“Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee health has become, with factors such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies,” said Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.
The winter losses survey covers the period from October 2013 through April 2014. About 7,200 beekeepers responded to the voluntary survey.
A complete analysis of the bee survey data will be published later this year. The summary of the analysis is at http://beeinformed.org/results-categories/winter-loss-2013-2014/.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced today that it will hold a summit this fall aimed at addressing the nutrition and forage needs of pollinators. The summit will take place in Washington D.C. on October 20-21 and will be attended by a consortium of public, private, and non-governmental organizations. Attendees will discuss the most recent research related to pollinator loss and work to identify solutions.
Additionally, today USDA launched the People’s Garden Apiary bee cam at the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. as an additional effort to increase public awareness about the reduction of bee populations and to inform Americans about actions they can take to support the recovery of pollinator populations. The USDA “Bee Watch” website (www.usda.gov/beewatch) will broadcast honey bee hive activity live over the Internet 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Created in 2010, the People’s Garden Apiary is home to two beehives. The bees are Italian queens, the most common bee stock and the same used in many honey bee colonies throughout the United States.
In March of 2014, Secretary Vilsack created a Pollinator Working Group, under the leadership of Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, to better coordinate efforts, leverage resources, and increase focus on pollinator issues across USDA agencies. USDA personnel from ten Department agencies (Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Services Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Economic Research Service, Forest Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, Risk Management Agency and Rural Development) meet regularly to coordinate and evaluate efforts as USDA strives toward improving pollinator health and ensuring our pollinators continuing contributions to our nation’s environment and food security.
Earlier this year, USDA made $3 million available to help agriculture producers in five states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) provide floral forage habitats to benefit pollinating species on working lands. The Honey Bee Pollinator Effort is intended to encourage farmers and ranchers to grow alfalfa, clover and other flowering habitat for bees and other pollinators.
The President’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal provides $71 million for pollinator health activities through multiple USDA agencies. This includes an increase of $40 million in combined mandatory and discretionary funds to advance efforts, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and other Federal partners, to respond to the decline in honey bee health and ensure their recovery. This coordinated effort is focused on targeted research that addresses multifactorial stressors, their interaction, and identification and implementation of measures to improve and increase habitat available to pollinators on Federal and private lands. In addition, this initiative will help prevent introductions of invasive bees, bee diseases, and parasites; document the status of honey bee health factors associated with bee losses and honey bee production; and work with stakeholders on best management practices. A coordinated communication strategy, including outreach and education, will engage the public to help solve this important challenge.
Bee Biodiversity Boosts Crop Yields
Research from North Carolina State University shows that blueberries produce more seeds and larger berries if they are visited by more diverse bee species, allowing farmers to harvest significantly more pounds of fruit per acre.
“We wanted to understand the functional role of diversity,” says Dr. Hannah Burrack, an associate professor of entomology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research. “And we found that there is a quantifiable benefit of having a lot of different types of bees pollinating a crop.”
The researchers looked at blueberries in North Carolina because it is an economically important and well understood crop that relies on insect pollination.
Within the blueberry fields, the researchers identified five distinct groups of bee species: honey bees, bumble bees, southeastern blueberry bees, carpenter bees and a functionally similar collection of species that they termed small native bees.
The researchers found that for each group above one, farmers saw an increase of $311 worth of yield per acre. For example, if two bee groups pollinated a field, the boost would be $311 per acre; for three bee groups, the boost would be $622 per acre, and so on.
“For North Carolina blueberries as a whole, we calculate the benefit of each group to be approximately $1.42 million worth of yield each year,” Burrack says.
“We think the benefit stems from differences in behavior between bee groups, in part depending on the weather,” explains Dr. David Tarpy, an associate professor of entomology at NC State and co-author of the paper. For example, southeastern blueberry bees work well regardless of inclement weather, whereas honey bees only perform at their best on calm, warm, sunny days.
“This can make a big difference, since blueberries bloom in March and April in North Carolina,” Burrack says. “That means the weather can swing from great to awful, as we saw this year.”
There is some research showing that having native, flowering plants near blueberry fields can increase native bee populations over time, but the researchers are now planning to see what role crop management can play in fostering bee diversity at crop sites.
“We’ve shown that there is a real financial benefit associated with biodiversity,” Burrack says. “The next step is to figure out how to foster that diversity in practical terms.”
Happy Bees Down on the Farm in Indiana
How A Beekeeper And A Grower Created A New Home For Honey bees
by Dr. Becky Langer
Bayer Bee Care Program in North America
HANOVER, Ind. – Eleven years ago, a pilot flew into the grass runway airport that Ginger Davidson and her husband, Rich, own and manage near this southern Indiana community and sent her life in a new
During a conversation, the pilot mentioned he was a beekeeper and Ginger said she was thinking about becoming a beekeeper. “The next thing I know, he was flying back in, helping me put my bees in my hives,” said Davidson. “I started with two hives and it kind of gets under your skin. I am up to 60 hives right now.”
Davidson, who operates her honey bee business under the trade name, Geez Beez, sells honey as well as bees and queens. “My husband thinks it’s not too profitable,” she said. “The bee side is very profitable and the honey side helps cover expenses. I like to say that I break even but I’m working on it.”
Davidson’s apiary was hit by a tornado in March 2012 and she lost half of her hives. When she was chosen to receive a 2013 U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) North Central Region SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) Farmer/Rancher grant to promote sustainable beekeeping, she needed more bees so she purchased an apiary to replace lost hives and expand her operation. That meant she had to find more locations to place her hives – then fate stepped in at a USDA pasture management seminar.
“When you have 110 acres of which 50 are grass, you spend a lot of time mowing,” explained Davidson. “You try to find ways to reduce mowing time and to best utilize the land in airport friendly ways.” Davidson attended the seminar to learn new methods to manage the airport’s acreage. She mentioned to the instructor, Robert Zupancic who works out of the USDA’s office in nearby North Vernon, Ind., that she was looking for land for her honey bees. Zupancic knew exactly who to call.
The Bairds To The Rescue
“We have been friends with Robert for years and he knew that we have had beekeepers on our land in the past to help pollinate our pumpkins and squash,” said Linda Baird, whose family operates a farm about 30 miles from Davidson’s home. “We think it is mutually beneficial and we need the pollination.”
The 2013 Indiana Farm Family of the Year, Linda and her, husband, Kevin, along with sons Michael and Jared, are third-generation farmers, operating under the trade name, Cornucopia Farm. In addition to growing pumpkins and squash, they also grow corn, soybeans, and mums, bale straw for sale, and have a few cattle. On their 375-acre farm, they operate a seasonal market, have school tours to educate the public about agriculture, and, somewhat legendary locally, host an annual corn maze event.
“My husband and I went to meet them,” said Davidson. “We wanted to be sure the bees would be safe.” The Davidson’s were particularly concerned about chemical spraying near their hives, but the Bairds make sure that is not a problem.
“If we spray, and we only spray on as needed basis, we spray when the bees are in their hives,” said Baird. “I think if we all follow label directions and do the right thing, it will help the bees.”
Both Davidson and Baird are aware of concerns that pesticides may be causing honey bee colony decline. “I don’t believe pesticides are the only thing causing the problems,” said Davidson. “I think they (bees) are getting stresses from many
Davidson said the key is communication between beekeepers and growers. “We need to communicate more,” she said. “Growers don’t understand the beekeepers and the beekeepers don’t understand the growers. We need each other to survive.”
Baird agrees. “The bees are no trouble,” she said. “We think more people should help to increase our bee population…(and) providing habitat for them. That is what we are doing.”
Bringing together growers and beekeepers to have a positive impact on honey bee health is the goal of a broad-based stewardship campaign introduced during the spring of 2013 by Bayer CropScience North America. The campaign, launched under the acronym, C.A.R.E. urges growers to:
- Communicate planting activities and be aware of beekeepers in the area;
- Be Aware of wind speed, direction during planting;
- Help Reduce potential risk to pollinators by using Fluency Agent, a new seed lubricant for corn and soybeans; and
- Ensure seed is planted correctly.
“Linda Baird and Ginger Davidson are an excellent example of what happens when beekeepers and growers collaborate,” said Dick Rogers, apiologist and research manager, Bayer Bee Care Center in North America. “We believe that this type of collaboration will go a long way in helping all of us protect honey bees.”
In addition, there are a few intangible benefits. “It’s been a great relationship so far; the bees like it there,” said Davidson. “I have placed an observation hive in their store so the kids can see the bees working.”
On the Baird side of the ledger, Jared Baird, a sophomore at Purdue University, signed up for a beekeeping class this year. And for Linda, she and the bees couldn’t be doing better, “I’ve got more bees than I have had in the past, so I am happy.”
Researching an Endangered Relationship
Imperfect together? Climate change could endanger the relationship between bees and the plants they pollinate say NJIT Researchers.
The timing has been ....
PROCEEDINGS OF THE AMERICAN BEE RESEARCH CONFERENCE NOW AVAILABLE!
The 2012 American Bee Research Conference was held February 7-8 at APHIS Headquarters in Greenbelt, MD in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Apiary Inspectors of America. The twenty-sixth American Bee Research Conference will be held in Hershey, PA in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Honey Producers Association in January 2013. To access these abstracts now, click on the link below. These abstracts represent some of the latest bee research being conducted in the United States. Enjoy!