The ABCs: Agriculture, Bees, and Collaboration Drive Optimism

The Hill   By Barbara P. Glenn   July 20, 3015

As I speak to agricultural colleagues across the country, I can honestly say that it has been truly gratifying to observe how so many people with little direct connection to beekeeping are aware of the importance of pollinators to our food and our society. Along with this increased attention, more people are also aware that beekeepers are facing numerous challenges to keep our nation’s hives healthy. The challenges they face are real and they’re difficult, but if our collaborative efforts are directed toward meaningful action there is reason to be optimistic about our future. 

One reason for optimism is the president’s recent Pollinator Task Force report, which calls for a more comprehensive approach to restoring bee health. Most bee experts know there are many factors affecting bee colonies and logic dictates that multiple solutions will be needed.  The President’s plan looks at two factors that have seen too little attention — increased research investment to decrease colony losses and an expansion in forage acreage to increase a bee’s dietary options. Both of these are legitimate targets of opportunity that can produce sustainable benefits. 

Another reason for optimism comes from the growing collaboration among many diverse stakeholders to improve honey bee health. The president’s report also supports development of voluntary State Managed Pollinator Protection Plans (MP3s). State departments of agriculture are leading the development plans through collaboration among pollinator stakeholders including farmers, beekeepers, crop production services, and others.  MP3s show that collaboration at the local level provides real solutions which protect the health of our pollinators without one-size-fits-all federal regulatory requirements, while also advancing agriculture and conserving our precious natural resources. In another collaborative rally for improving honey bee health, I recently attended a 2-day workshop focusing on the “Healthy Hives 2020” initiative hosted at the Bayer CropScience Bee Care Center, with the goal of finding tangible solutions to colony health within the next 5 years. The participants included a diverse group of stakeholders, all of whom worked together toward finding the most impactful areas of research on improving the health of bees. While this process is in its early stages, there’s no doubt in my mind that it can lead to meaningful research and ultimately, real solutions.  

There is no silver bullet to improve pollinator health — despite calls by those who mistakenly point to pesticides as the sole threat to bee health. Nutrition, parasites and disease, genetic diversity, and the need for further collaboration between farmers and beekeepers all contribute to the health of these critical insects. There will be multiple solutions to address the complexities. We can all do better together, and MP3s are already a proven formula in a number of states. 

The challenges facing bees are not new. What has changed is the increasing reliance on commercial beekeepers to help meet agriculture’s rising demand for pollination services.  Because of this, it is critical to balance bee health with food production.  That is why it is so important that we continue to collaborate and work together to ensure that our efforts will be effective and sustainable for the generations to come. Have questions about pollinators in your state? Reach out to the chief collaborators in agriculture in your state: the state department of agriculture.

Glenn is CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

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Junk Science - Garbage Policy

Washington Examiner    By T. Becket Adams   July 6, 2015 

This was forwarded to us from Carlen Jupe, CSBA Sec/Treas: "Just received this story from the Washington Examiner passed on by Peter Borst, about how easily media and even scientists can be duped about issues. This may be one of the most critical articles of our time. Read it and consider.

Here's the section pertaining to: "The Death of the Bee"

Though the European Union is considering lifting its ban on neonicotinoids, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is under pressure to restrict the same chemicals for the same reason: to save bees.

After years of headlines about a pending "beemaggedon," the Obama administration announced a strategy in May to stem what it characterized as an unprecedented decline in the number of America's pollinators, particularly the honeybee.

Part of the plan includes speeding up EPA's scheduled review of neonicotinoids.

The press hailed the strategy as a moment of redemption for threatened bee populations.

"After the sting of vanishing bees, White House pollinates protection plan," CNN reported, discussing the "effort to help the declining bee and butterfly populations."

"After years of devastation, the American honey bee finally has the White House's attention," Quartz reported May 19, stating in a separate article that "the world is finally trying to save the bees."

Many other outlets welcomed the decision, including the New York Times, National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal, which reported that there has been a "surge in honeybee deaths."

As newsrooms reported on the White House's announcement, few — if any — asked whether there has been an actual decline in honeybees.

"The whole 'mass death' thing is off," biologist and beekeeper Randy Oliver told the Examiner, claiming that media is purposely confusing the issue by not giving full context.

"In the United States, the number of colonies is increasing. Simply look at the number of colonies available for almond pollination each year," he said. "The acreage of almonds is increasing each year, so the demand for colonies is increasing each year. And it's all across the world. African countries, Canada, many European countries are increasing their numbers [of colonies]."

Beekeeper and biomedical researcher Peter Borst said the numbers are much better than people are led to believe.

"The number of managed bee hives in the world [have risen] from 50 million in 1960 to more than 80 million today. But this figure only reflects managed colonies, not wild colonies. It is hard to know the real number of 'unkept' honeybee colonies in the world," he wrote in the American Bee Journal, suggesting that Africa has at least 310 million.

Borst told the Examiner, "In most areas where honeybees are kept, the numbers are going up, not down."

He and Oliver cited several reasonable and non-shocking explanations for past fluctuations in bee numbers, including the drop-off a few decades ago in the number of recreational beekeepers.

"It's a cyclical thing. People lost interest in [beekeeping] in the '80s and '90s, especially when it got to be harder to take care of bees," Borst said. "Now there's a huge resurgence in beekeeping as a hobby, because people are reading about it in the papers and now they want to be part of the solution."

This is not exactly new, he said.

A decline of bees and wasps in England, for example, has been going on for at least a century, Smithsonian's Sarah Zielinski reported in December.

"Changes in agricultural practices since the 19th century may be a major culprit in the pollinators' decline," she wrote in an article titled, "Bees and Wasps in Britain Have Been Disappearing For More Than a Century."

The same issue of changing agricultural practices holds true in the United States, an important bit of context that the White House fails to account for in its representation of honeybee populations as massively failing.

By comparing current hive numbers to those of the 1940s, the White House claims that bee populations are in a precipitous decline.

Left out of this picture, however, is the fact that the number of farmers, many of whom kept bees, has also declined since the '40s, as post-war agricultural practices trended toward larger farms, University of Missouri economics professor John Ikerd wrote in Small Farm Today Magazine.

Since the mid-'90s, when the supposedly harmful neonicotinoids hit the market, there has not been a massive drop in the number of honey-producing hives.

Furthermore, recent Department of Agriculture statistics show there were 2.74 million honey-producing hives in the United States in 2014, an increase of 4 percent from 2013.

Honeybee numbers in the United States are at a 20-year high, according to Agriculture statistics.

Separately, the European Academies Science Advisory Council said in a report analyzing Europe's pollinators that drawing any conclusions about trends from honeybee data "requires a differentiation between 'losses' and 'declines.' "

"Losses are the deaths of colonies which may occur in the temperate regions especially over winter," the report reads. "However, declines may occur both in the number of beekeepers or in the numbers of colonies maintained by each beekeeper. The latter are particularly heavily influenced by socioeconomic factors, by the price of honey, the presence or absence of subsidies, or the popularity of beekeeping as a hobby."

From Oliver's point of view, reporters don't appear interested in getting to the bottom of these nuanced and non-sexy details.

Oliver said a cable news correspondent once called him for information on reports that bees were dying off in record numbers.

"I asked him if he wanted the facts or if he just wanted some printable sound bites to makes a sensational story. The reporter pretty much said he wanted the second. The conversation ended after that," he said.

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Photos and Facts: What You Can Learn From The White House Honey Bees

The White House Blog    By Tanya Somander   June 16, 2015

It's National Pollinator Week! What does that mean and why should you care? 

Check this out:

That's a White House bee -- up close and personal! Just one of the many pollinators buzzing about the White House grounds that we're working hard to protect. As President Obama's Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren wrote in an email this morning:

"Honeybees, native bees, other insect pollinators, birds, and bats provide tremendously valuable services to society. That's why, here at the White House and across the Administration, we're doing a lot to protect these hardworking contributors to society, which you can learn about here."

Didn't get the email? You can sign up for updates here

The White House is home to its very own beehive, where about 70,000 honeybees contribute to the essential pollination services that bees and other pollinators provide worldwide.

Here's a few facts you might not know about these incredible creatures:

The "buzz" associated with honeybees is the sound of their four wings beating more than 11,000 times per minute. With wing-speeds that high, honeybees can fly faster than most people can run: about 15 miles per hour.

Bees use magnetism to find their way back home to their hives. Worker bees have a region of magnetite in their abdomens that allow them to use the Earth's magnetic field to help them navigate.

Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

But pollinators are struggling. Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of honeybee colonies.

That's why the President's Task Force to promote the health of our pollinators is pursuing a strategy with these three overarching goals: 

  1. Reduce honeybee colony losses to economically sustainable levels
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

Learn more about the President's action plan here.

And if you want to join in the effort to protect the honeybee, plant a pollinator-friendly garden at your own school, home, or business to help achieve the ambitious goal of planting a million pollinator-gardens nationwide. 

Swing & A Miss on Bee Harming Pesticides

Pesticide Action Network   May 28, 2015

Once again, it looks like federal decisionmakers are sidestepping the issue of bee-harming pesticides. The Pollinator Health Task Force, launched almost a year ago by President Obama, released its strategy for addressing pollinator declines last week — without tackling the pesticide problem.

While the plan sets an ambitious goal for reining in honey bee losses, and calls for state plans to increase habitat for pollinators, it fails to directly address the impact of neonicotinoids and other insecticides, despite crystal clear science that these chemicals are impacting pollinators. 


Call on your Rep. to support the Saving America's Pollinators Act! Help get neonicotinoids and other bee-toxic pesticides off the shelf.Act Now

The creation of this inter-agency task force — led jointly by USDA and EPA — signaled a renewed commitment at the federal level to address the crisis facing bees and other pollinators. And while regulators were formulating their new strategy, more than four million beekeepers, farmers, scientists and concerned advocates across the country urged them to directly and meaningfully address the issue of bee-toxic pesticides.

Unfortunately, the plan falls short.

Goals without a plan

The task force strategy focuses on three goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

All important, certainly. But it's unclear how regulators intend to meet their goal of reducing annual honey bee losses to an "economically sustainable" average of 15% — commonplace for healthy hives — when losses in recent years have hovered around 30-40% or more.

Recent reports show that last year's bee losses were the second worst on record for U.S. beekeepers.

An ever growing body of independent science shows that neonics and other pesticides play a critical role in declining bee populations. Without action on pesticides, the problem will persist.

In a media statement last week, PAN organizer Lex Horan put it this way:

“A lopsided federal policy that takes decisive action on habitat, mites and other issues, while remaining stuck on pesticides, will not turn the tide on bee declines.”

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Federal Government Announces Plans To

Fox2News   By Tom Vacar  May 19, 2015

RICHMOND, Calif. (KTVU) - The alarming plunge in bee populations, with 40 percent fewer colonies than a year ago, now has the full attention and resources of the White House.

Whether it's due to bacteria, environmental disruptions, parasites, pesticides or the simple lack of food due to less things to pollinate, bees are dying in enormous numbers.

The federal government announced efforts Tuesday to support the bees that contribute mightily to the U.S. economy.

As they feed themselves, bees are responsible for pollinating 90 commercial crops from almonds to zucchini. They are critical to California agribusiness and consumers.

The White House announced plans to dedicate 7 million acres of federal land, a total acreage larger than the state of Oregon, to plant bee, monarch butterfly and other pollinator friendly plants.

Federal buildings and facilities will also be landscaped with bee friendly food source plants. The Administration also plans to vastly increase research money to get to the bottom of what's causing the die off.

Researchers, such as Elina Nino of the UC Davis Bee Lab, say farmers should plant bee friendly plants before and after their main crops. "They should be providing forage for the honey bees or other pollinators before and after the crop that the honey bees are pollinating," says Professor Nino. "It's also very important for the general public to do what they can to contribute to this," she says.

At Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond, water tolerant but bee friendly plants are emphasized because backyards and gardens can provide many millions more acres of pollinator friendly habitat. "We have, you know, the ability to have the diversity in our urban planted spaces too.

“A lot of agricultural stuff, it's one enormous crop," says Pixie Brownell, a bee and plant expert. He adds we can save the bees and our crops. "I think it's pretty easy. I think if you focus on making your planted spaces pollinator friendly, it kind of takes over for itself," says Pixie.

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White House Plan Does Little To Take The Sting Out Of Pollinator Declines

Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog  May 20, 2015

(Washington, DC, May 20, 2015) Yesterday, the White House released its much awaited plan for protecting American pollinators, which identifies key threats, but falls short of recommendations submitted by Beyond Pesticides, beekeepers, and others who stress that pollinator protection begins with strong regulatory action and suspension of bee-toxic pesticides. The Pollinator Health Task Force, established by President Obama in June 2014, brought together most federal agencies to “reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels,” and involved developing a National Pollinator Health Strategy and a Pollinator Research Action Plan. The Strategy outlines several components, such as a focus on increased pollinator habitat, public education and outreach, and further research into a range of environmental stressors, including systemic neonicotinoid pesticides. Although well-intentioned, the Strategy ultimately works at cross-purposes by encouraging habitat, but continuing to allow pesticides that contaminate landscapes.

“Waiting for additional research before taking action on neonicotinoid pesticides, which current science shows are highly toxic to bees, will not effectively stem pollinator declines, and is unlikely to achieve the National Pollinator Health Strategy’s goal of reducing honey bee losses to no more than 15% within 10 years,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

A major component of the federal plan is the creation and stewardship of habitat and forage for pollinators. However, without restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids, these areas are at risk for pesticide contamination and provide no real safe-haven for bees and other pollinators. Beyond Pesticides continues to encourage federal agencies to adopt organic management practices that are inherently protective of pollinators.

Under the plan, EPA will propose...


Pollinator Politics: Environmentalists Criticize Obama's Plan To Save Bees

NPR/THE SALT    By Allison Aubrey  May 20, 2015


The buzz around bees has been bad lately. As we've reported, beekeepers say they lost 42 percent of honeybee colonies last summer.

And it seems that fixing what ails bees is no simple task. Over the past few decades, they've been hit by diseases and habitat loss. There's also increasing evidence that a type of pesticides called neonicotinoids are linked to bees' decline, too.

This could be bad news for all of us, since bees and other pollinators are critical to our food supply.

Honeybees alone, according to an Obama administration estimate, add $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year by pollinating everything from almonds and apples to blueberries and squash.

And now the administration has put forth a new action plan to reverse the declines in bees.

A key component is a strategy to restore 7 million acres of bee-friendly habitat that have been lost to urbanization, development and farming.

"It's a big step in the right direction," says Nigel Raine, a professor who studies pollinator conservation at the University of Guelph, in Canada.

The idea is to plant many types of wildflowers — in lots of different areas — so that bees have more places to forage and nest. "It's making sure they have sufficient flowers to feed on," says Raine — and places to live.

Many environmentalists say restoring bee habitat is a good place to start, but they're critical that the Obama administration has not taken a harder line in limiting the use of neonicotinoids.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says more urgent action is needed to safeguard our food supply. "To truly save bees and other pollinators, we must drastically cut down on today's pervasive use of neonicotinoids and other pesticides," Peter Lehner, executive director of the NRDC, said in a press release.

And a similar message is coming from Friends of the Earth. The White House Pollinator Strategy won't solve the bee crisis, the group says.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced in April that it is not likely to approve new uses of neonicotinoids, but the plan announced by the administration on Tuesday did not call for restrictions on current uses.

Lisa Archer, who leads the food and technology program at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: "President Obama's National Pollinator Health Strategy misses the mark by not adequately addressing the pesticides as a key driver of unsustainable losses of bees and other pollinators essential to our food system."

The European Union has already moved to restrict the use of neonicotinoids. And as we've reported, there are proposals in Canada to limit use of the pesticides, too.

But a leading manufacturer of the pesticides says neonic restrictions are not necessary. "Neonicotinoids — when used according to labeled directions — can be used safely with pollinators," Becky Langer of Bayer Crop Science told us.

She says the administration's strategy to restore bee-friendly habitat is a good approach, and points out that Bayer is helping to address this issue with its Bee Care Center and efforts to encourage the expansion of habitat.

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How the White House Plans to Help the Humble Honey Bee Retain Its Buzz

The Washington Post   By Juliet Eilperin     May 19, 2015

The humble bee — nuisance, threat, and linchpin of the American food supply — has won over the leader of the free world. And now President Obama is intervening on the bee’s behalf as its habitat dwindles.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration will announce the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a bureaucratic title for a plan to save the bee, other small winged animals and their breeding grounds. The initiative may feel like the kind of niche interest a second-term president devotes his time to, but scientists say his attention to the busy workforce that sustains many American crops is critical. While bee colonies regularly die off during winter because of stressful conditions, their sharp decline has been called a potential ecological disaster by some environmentalists and academic experts...



Feds Propose Multi-Pronged Plan to Bolster Decline in Bees

 Washington AP  By Seth Borenstein  May 19, 2015

The Obama administration hopes to save the bees by feeding them better.

A new federal plan aims to reverse America's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making millions of acres of federal land more bee-friendly, spending millions of dollars more on research and considering the use of fewer pesticides.

While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don't provide foraging areas for bees.

"This is the first time I've seen addressed the issue that there's nothing for pollinators to eat," said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. "I think it's brilliant."

Environmental activists who wanted a ban on a much-criticized class of pesticide said the Obama administration's bee strategy falls way short of what's needed to save the hives.

Scientists say bees — crucial to pollinate many crops...


White House Bee Strategy: