Nearly $3 million in technical assistance will be provided to farmers and ranchers looking to improve bee health, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service announced Tuesday.
The funding is a focused investment to improve pollinator health and will be targeted in five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Bee health has been under scrutiny recently by the USDA and others looking for answers to an ongoing decline in populations. Bees assist agriculture naturally through crop pollination.
"Honey bee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet. The future security of America's food supply depends on healthy honey bees," Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack noted in a press announcement.
"Expanded support for research, combined with USDA's other efforts to improve honey bee health, should help America's beekeepers combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year," he added.
Funding will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment.
Recent studies have shown that beekeepers are losing approximately 30% of their honey bee colonies each year, up from historical norms of 10% to 15% overwintering losses experienced prior to 2006.
This assistance will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees, USDA said.
For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.
Midwestern states were chosen because from June to September the region is the resting ground for over 65% of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.
Applications are due March 21, 2014.
Continuing honey bee research
Aside from Tuesday's funding, the Agricultural Research Service maintains four laboratories across the country conducting research into all aspects of bee genetics, breeding, biology and physiology, with special focus on bee nutrition, control of pathogens and parasites, the effects of pesticide exposure and the interactions between each of these factors.
Other agencies, like the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service also support bee research. APHIS conducts national honey bee pest and disease surveys and provides border inspections to prevent new invasive bee pests from entering the U.S.
The Farm Service Agency and NRCS work on improved forage and habitat for bees through programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program and EQIP. Additionally, the Economic Research Service is currently examining the direct economic costs of the pollinator problem and the associated indirect economic impacts, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service conducts limited surveys of honey production, number of colonies, price, and value of production which provide some data essential for research by the other agencies.
The agencies' efforts follow a study completed early last year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA that found several potential reasons for honeybee decline, including poor nutrition and parasites.
The report also recommended additional research and collaboration on honeybee protection and health, including additional review of honeybee pesticide exposure.
The report followed a European Commission temporary ban on selected neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been targeted as a potential cause for honeybee population declines.
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