Agriculture’s Increasing Dependence On Pollination, Coupled With A Lack Of Crop Diversity, May Threaten Food Security And Stability

Catch the Buzz By Alan Harman August 12, 2019


New research suggests global trends in farming practices are undermining the pollinators that crops depend on and putting agricultural productivity and stability at risk,

An international team of researchers has identified countries where agriculture’s increasing dependence on pollination, coupled with a lack of crop diversity, may threaten food security and economic stability.

The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is the first global assessment of the relationship between trends in crop diversity and agricultural dependence on pollinators.

Using annual data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization from 1961 to 2016, the study showed that the global area cultivated in crops that require pollination by bees and other insects expanded by 137%, while crop diversity increased by just 20.5%.

This imbalance is a problem, the researchers say, because agriculture dominated by just one or two types of crops only provides nutrition for pollinators during a limited window when the crops are blooming.

Maintaining agricultural diversity by cultivating a variety of crops that bloom at different times provides a more stable source of food and habitat for pollinators.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the research paper.

Globally, a large portion of the total agricultural expansion and increase in pollinator dependence between 1961 and 2016 resulted from increases in large-scale farming of soybean, canola and palm crops for oil.

The researchers expressed concern over the increase in these crops because it indicates a rapid expansion of industrial farming, which is associated with environmentally damaging practices such as large monocultures and pesticide use that threaten pollinators and can undermine productivity.

Particularly vulnerable to potential agricultural instability are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, where expansion of pollinator-dependent soybean farms has driven deforestation and replaced rich biodiversity that supports healthy populations of pollinators with large-scale single-crop agriculture (monoculture).

Malaysia and Indonesia face a similar scenario from the expansion of oil palm farming.

“Farmers are growing more crops that require pollination, such as fruits, nuts and oil seeds, because there’s an increasing demand for them and they have a higher market value,” Inouye says.

“This study points out that these current trends are not great for pollinators, and countries that diversify their agricultural crops are going to benefit more than those that expand with only a limited subset of crops.”

In Europe, farmland is contracting as development replaces agriculture, but pollinator-dependent crops are replacing non-pollinator-dependent crops such as rice and wheat (which are wind pollinated).

The study says increasing need for pollination services without parallel increases in diversity puts agricultural stability at risk in places such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria, Denmark and Finland.

In the U.S., agricultural diversity has not kept pace with expansion of industrial-scale soybean farming.

“This work shows that you really need to look at this issue country by country and region by region to see what’s happening because there are different underlying risks,” Inouye says..

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management.”

Farm Bill Mostly Neutral On Pollinators. Research Funding Up Or Steady, And Added Sugar Off The Table

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December 14, 2018

By: R. Thomas (Tom) Van Arsdall
Director of Public Affairs, and
Val Dolcin, President & CEO
The Pollinator Partnership

Tom Van Arsdall from the Pollinator Partnership (P2) has waded through the 807 pages of the Farm Bill now headed to the President’s office for signing. We asked P2 if the bill had any radical changes, good or bad, for pollinators in general compared to the bill passed 5 years ago. Here is the summary of their evaluation.

• Reauthorizes Pollinator conservation and research provisions enacted in the 2008 and 2014 farm bill (P2 leading role in each)
• Adds major new, enhanced coordination of honeybee/pollinator research provisions under the USDA Chief Scientist (advocated by AHPA, supported by P2)
o New Honey Bee and Pollinator Research Coordinator established in Office of the Chief Scientist.
o “Implement and coordinate research efforts per recommendation of the Pollinator Health Task Force.”
o Provides specific direction on the scope of research to be conducted and coordinated (SEE legislative language excerpts)
• Adds specialty crop pollinators eligibility to Specialty Crops Research Initiative
• Adds habitat for honey bees and other pollinators under supplemental and alternative crops section
• Does NOT include major provision that was in the Senate-passed farm bill, which essentially would have codified in detail the Pollinator Health Task Force/Strategy implemented pursuant to the Presidential Memorandum on Honey Bee and Pollinator Health.
o In addition to reference to the Pollinator Health Task Force in research language (cited above), the joint statement of managers encourages “the continuation of interagency collaboration and policy development as recommended by the Pollinator Health Task Force.”
o So at least the Presidential Memorandum, National Strategy on Honey Bee and Pollinator Health and the Pollinator Health Task Force remain in effect (no harm done).
• There’s also language clarifying that beekeepers qualify for ELAP, and clarifying what constitutes covered losses.
• While language in the Joint Statement of Managers doesn’t have force of law, it does provide clarification on legislative language decisions, plus intent of the conferees. This can be useful in advocacy efforts during implementation.
• Lots of other provisions in the farm bill can benefit/impact honey bees and other pollinators that were generally encouraging. For example –
o CRP cap will increase from 24 to 27 million acres. However, payment rates will be limited to 85% of rental rates, making CRP less attractive choice.
o Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), to continue, but at reduced funding.
o Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), an additional $185 million provided (FFAR announced last spring $15 million in leveraged funds for pollinator research).

P2 hasn’t had a chance to track down the specific sections of law referenced in the legislative language [sometimes just reference to sections being amended or deleted]. For example, according to news reports, reportedly no more cost-share assistance will be provided to growers for pollinator mixes for CRP (CP-42), largely due to excessive cost. Not able to confirm at this point.

“P2 has been concerned about excessive cost of CP-42 pollinator mix and appreciates conferees’ statements urging USDA to develop more affordable mixes for honey bee and pollinator forage.”
By: R. Thomas (Tom) Van Arsdall, Director of Public Affairs, and
Val Dolcini, President & CEO
The Pollinator Partnership


Other provisions not directly affecting pollinators, but certainly bees and beekeeping, were shared with us by other groups including the following –

Taking a bipartisan approach in the crafting of their measure, The Senate Agriculture Committee included many provisions important to our industry:
• $80 million in funding for all specialty crops under the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and new prioritization for mechanization projects
§ $25 million annually for citrus greening research through the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Development Trust Fund
§ $4 million annually for a new research initiative focusing on urban agriculture
§ Reauthorization of the Office of Pest Management Policy
§ Full $85 million in funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) with $5 million set aside for multi-state programs to be administered through the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
§ An increase to $50 million in mandatory funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI)
§ Full funding for trade programs such as the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program (TASC)

The No Added Sugar change was welcomed by the both the beekeeping and maple syrup industries, if not the FDA and AMS sections of the USDA.

The new farm bill prevents maple syrup and honey producers from being required to list their pure products as containing added sugars on their nutrition labels — a plan proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration months ago that producers said was misleading.

The FDA’s goal was to update the Nutrition Facts label on products to educate consumers about the amount of added sugars in foods based on government dietary guidelines. However, no sugar is added to pure maple syrup or honey.
After getting thousands of comments on the draft plan, the FDA acknowledged in June the labeling was confusing and said it would come up with an alternative approach for maple syrup and honey.

“This was a huge mistake by the FDA so we got a common sense outcome to the pretty witless labeling requirement,” maple syrup producers said, echoed by beekeepers everywhere.

The farm bill exempts “any single-ingredient sugar, honey, agave, or syrup” that is packaged and offered for sale as a single-ingredient food from bearing the declaration ‘includes X g Added Sugars” in the nutrition label.

The FDA said in a written statement that it does not comment on pending legislation. It said it was drafting its final guidance, which it anticipates issuing by early next year.

“This guidance will provide a path forward for pure, single-ingredient ‘packaged as such’ products that does not involve the standard ‘added sugars’ declaration on the Nutrition Facts label,” the statement said.

BeeCulture/Catch the Buzz: Farm Bill