Honey Bee Health Hits Congress, EPA, and the White House. You'd Think Something Would Get Done, Wouldn't You?

Catch the Buzz      By Alan Harman   May 14, 2015
The rental fees honey producers charge for pollination services in the U.S. continues to rise due to increasing demand.

U.S. Department of Agriculture acting chief economist Robert Johansson tells a House of Representatives hearing that the average rental rate per hive doubled between 2005 and 2009 to more than $150.

“In 2012 the fees charged for honeybee pollination services exceeded $650 million,” Johansson tells the U.S. House agriculture sub-committee on biotechnology, horticulture and research.

U.S. honey producers are responding to higher honey prices, he says.

"The number of producing colonies and average production per colony grew from 2.6 million colonies producing 57 pounds per year in 2013 to 2.7 million colonies at 65 pounds per colony of production in 2014.”

But he says there is still plenty of room for growth – in 1993, there were more than three million colonies at 73 pounds of production per colony.

Subcommittee chairman Rodney Davis (R-IL) called the public hearing to review the federal coordination and response regarding pollinator health.

“Pollinators are essential in crop pollination, however, as the issue becomes increasingly politicized, there is growing disconnect between scientific facts and public perception of the role pesticides play in pollinator health,” Davis says.

"Federal coordination and communication is vital in establishing rules and regulations impacting pollinator health and farmers’ abilities to produce food. It is essential that agencies work together to promote their health without overburdening farmers and politicizing the issue.”

Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) says agriculture policies must be based on sound science and include input from the agriculture community.

“What we do in Washington, and how agencies work with each other, directly affects farmers and ranchers’ ability to do their jobs,” he said.

Davis said that despite the overwhelming consensus within the scientific community regarding the relative importance of the various factors contributing to overall pollinator health, the factor near the bottom of the scientific community’s list seems to be the factor highest on the list of activist groups.

Pesticides and in particular those known as neonics were attracting the lion share of media and public interest attention.

Davis said neonics are highly effective and have seen a very rapid adoption rate among producers because of the significant benefits they offer.

“It is frustrating that efforts to innovate and employ new, proven technologies to enhance our ability to produce food, feed and fiber are constantly under attack,” he said.

He noted the an Executive Memorandum from President Barack Obama established a White House Task force to review pollinator health that was supposed to release its findings by the end of last year has still not reported,.

The order also directed the various departments and agencies assigned to the task force to work together to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, but Davis says this is not happening – agencies continue to take unilateral action without consultations.

Johansson said the USDA collaborates with the Environmental Protection Agency on a number of key issues, such as on the Federal Pollinator Health Task Force.

“Through cooperation on environmental issues affecting agriculture and rural communities, the EPA and the USDA have developed strong working relationships,” he said.

James Jones, assistant administrator of EPA’s office of chemical safety and pollution prevention, told the sub-committee that pollinator protection is an extremely high priority for the EPA.

“Over the past several years we have taken many steps to develop scientifically sound analytical techniques for assessing the potential impacts of pesticides on pollinators and have acted, based upon this science, to reduce those exposures determined to be of most significant risk,” Jones said.

“As the science continues to advance, through the registration and registration review programs, the agency will continue to work with stakeholders to put in place any additional mitigation strategies to continue to protect pollinators.”

He said the strategy developed by Pollinator Health Task Force co-chaired by the USDA and the EPA will be released in the “very near future” and is the result of a strong interagency collaboration with a focus of improving pollinator health and increasing pollinator habitat.

"Mitigating the effects of pesticides on bees, many of which are intended to kill insects, is a difficult task but is also a priority for the federal government, as both bee pollination and insect control are essential to the success of agriculture,” Jones said.

The EPA has focused its pollinator efforts in three primary areas – advancing the science and understanding of the potential impact of pesticides on pollinators; taking appropriate risk management actions, based upon the available science; and collaborating with domestic and international partners to advance pollinator protection.

Jones told the hearing that collaboration with domestic and international partners to advance pollinator protection is critical.

Over the past three years, the EPA has co-hosted pollinator summits on several topics, including seed treatments, honey bee health, Varroa mites, and forage and nutrition.

In addition, through its Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee, the EPA sought advice on how to improve pesticide labeling, increase methods for reporting bee kill incidents, expand the availability of best management practices for reducing pollinator exposure to pesticides, and develop a consistent approach for investigating bee kill incidents.

“In response to the advice received, the EPA has greatly improved pesticide labels for the neonicotinoids and has imposed similar labeling requirements for other pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees,” Jones said.

“We have expanded the various methods that bee kill incidents can be reported, both via the EPA’s website and other mechanisms, and we worked with states to develop a more consistent approach and guidance for investigating bee kill incidents.’

EPA has also worked with stakeholders and land grant universities to make more publically available information on best management practices for reducing pesticide exposures to bees.

“In the near future, as part of the roll out of the Pollinator Health Strategy, the EPA will soon announce additional initiatives for continuing to improve pollinator health,” Jones said.

“We will take those actions based upon the best available science and utilizing our longstanding principles of public engagement and transparency.

“The EPA we will also continue to work with the USDA and other federal and state agencies to protect pollinators while also ensuring that growers can meet their pest control needs in order to maintain a diverse ecosystem and provide for a healthy and abundant United States food supply.”

Bring Back the Bees

Care2Causes   By Lia Leendertz      

How to Increase Your Garden's Bee Population

What's Happening to the bees?

Honey bees (and all other bees too, for that matter) are struggling. Recent winters have seen catastrophic cases of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where entire hives die over winter. Before 2006, the annual expected loss for bees was around 10-15 percent. Since 2006 that number has more than doubled to over 30 percent. CCD is recognized as an international issue, and some predict it will soon...

Read more: http://www.fix.com/blog/bring-back-the-bees/

'Best Practices' For California Almonds Aim to Protect Bees

Sierra Sun Times   By Christine Souza    October 22, 2014

Left, Beekeeper Orin Johnson of Hughson talks to neighboring almond grower Eric Genzoli about best management practices for honeybees newly released by the Almond Board of California. Photo/Christine SouzaIn preparation for pollination that attracts an estimated 1.6 million honeybee colonies to California almond orchards each year, the Almond Board of California has unveiled a set of bee "best management practices" as a guide intended to improve honeybee health.

"Nobody is a bigger fan of honeybees than almond growers," said Richard Waycott, chief executive officer of the Almond Board. "Without bees, there would be no almonds. And without almonds, bees would lose a vital source of nutritious pollen."

In releasing the best management practices last week, Waycott described the BMPs as "another significant milestone in our decades-long commitment to protect bee health and preserve that mutually beneficial relationship."

Developed with input from sources including almond growers, beekeepers, researchers, chemical registrants and regulators, the BMPs represent what the Almond Board called simple, practical steps that farmers can take with beekeepers to protect and promote bee health.

The BMPs emphasize the importance of communication among everyone involved in pollination, including beekeepers, bee brokers, farm owners and lessees, farm mangers, pest control advisers and applicators. The recommendations include information on preparing for honeybee arrival; assessing hive strength and quality; providing clean water for bees to drink; using integrated pest management strategies to minimize application of materials; removing bees from the orchard; and pesticide plans between the beekeeper and farmer that outline pest control materials to be used.

Beekeeper Orin Johnson of Hughson said the Almond Board BMPs for honeybees are good for both the apiary and almond sectors "as long as it's accepted and heeded by the almond growers."

While experts agree that more research would be beneficial on honeybees' interaction with various crop-protection materials, Eric Mussen, Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus at the University of California, Davis, said, "With these best management practices, the Almond Board is responding strongly on honeybee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom."

He said the recommendations provide "important insights for all crops when it comes to promoting honeybee health."

Eric Genzoli, who grows almonds with his family in Turlock and Hughson, said his operation has most of the BMPs in place and has "never had any issues related to the bees."

Genzoli said he has developed a good relationship with the beekeepers whose bees pollinate his orchards.

Almond grower Sonny Johns of Modesto said he values what beekeepers and bees mean for the almond crop and has a great interest in maintaining honeybee health.

"We want people to understand that the almond industry is doing its job as growers. We are not out there doing applications without considering the bees and bee pollen," Johns said.

"You've got to take care of your investment," Genzoli said. "You've got to take care of the bees."

U.S. beekeepers report losses of bees each year, citing problems such as pests and diseases, the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, and a lack of forage due to the drought.

The BMPs for bees released by the Almond Board also include a "Quick Guide for Almonds" and bee BMPs for applicatorRead at/drivers. The information and bee BMP documents are available at www.almonds.com/growers/pollination#BeeBMPs.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)  

Read at

Why Pollination is Critical to Wildlife's Winter Food Supply Habitat Tip

Nebraska's Pheasants Forever   By Pete Berthelsen   August 17, 2014

This weeks ‘Video Monday Habitat Tip’ brings a different perspective on why pollinators are so important and a part of PF’s Strategic Plan. I think we all now understand that great pheasant and quail habitat equals great pollinator habitat, but have you stopped to think about how important pollinators are in ‘stocking the shelves’ for wildlife food resources in late fall and winter? Watch this habitat tip to find out why! For more tips like this on a weekly basis, like and follow Nebraska Pheasants Forever, both on Facebook and YouTube!


Bees Are More Crucial To Modern Agricultural Than Fertilizer

Motherboard    June 11, 2014

Bees are more integral to a successful harvest than fertilizer, according to a new PloS ONE study. Researchers, led by Alexandra-Maria Klein of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, discovered that disrupting insect pollination affected almond tree yields far more than restricting nutrients and water. 

Klein, along with her colleagues at the University of California, exposed three sample groups of almond trees to different levels of pollination. One group was pollinated by insects without intervention, while the blossoms of a second group were caged, preventing insects from reaching them. The third group was pollinated by hand.

In addition to the pollination variables, Klein's team treated one group of trees to a standard helping of water and fertilizer, and compared its yields to a group that was given no fertilizer and very little water. Each experiment was conducted in isolation, but the team also studied the manipulated variables in combination to better observe their effects on almond yields and nutritional quality.

The results were dramatic. The trees with caged blossoms barely produced any fruit, but the nuts that did bloom were abnormally large. The hand-pollinated group produced the most nuts, but they were all markedly undersized. The insect-pollinated trees were right in the Goldilocks zone, agriculturally speaking, and they outperformed the other groups by a factor of about 200 percent.

The team also discovered that trees deprived of fertilizer and water were able to make up for the loss over the short-term by subbing in stored nutrients. But no such flexibility was shown for the lack of insect pollinators, making bees and their blossom-loving cohorts a more valuable factor in the success of a crop yield.

Claire Brittain, one of the authors of the study, explained why insect pollination is so much more effective than other pollination techniques. “Most almond varieties are self incompatible,” she told me in an email. “For this reason, farmers plant two or three varieties in a single orchard. Insect pollination produces better yields because their movement between trees in the orchards helps to transfer pollen from other varieties to the almond flowers.”

The finding further confirms that colony collapse disorder will have disastrous effects on agricultural yields. “Almond needs insect pollinators to be able to produce a commercial crop,” said Brittain. “If there is less availability of honey bees in the future farmers will be forced to pay more for renting honey bee hives. This may in turn increase the price for consumers.”

Given that climate change is also throwing bees off their pollination game, this issue is sure to become more pronounced in the coming decades. For now, Brittain and her colleagues are busy brainstorming novel ways to encourage pollinators to lend their talents to flowering crops.

“One step we are exploring is how to bolster insect pollinators around almond orchards by providing them with floral resources before and after almond bloom,” she said. “This is being done as part of the ICP project which is working on habitat enhancements for crop pollinators across multiple crops in the US.”

Bees and other insects may be small in stature, but their impact on our food supply is clearly enormous. Addressing the multiple problems raised by their declining numbers is paramount, because humans are nowhere near as accommodating about restricted nutritional intake as almond trees.

Read at... http://motherboard.vice.com/read/bees-are-more-crucial-to-agricultural-success-than-fertilizer

Related article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140610101516.htm

Loss of Wild Insects Hurts Crops Around the World

(The following is brought to us by the American Bee Journal.) 3/1/13

 Loss of Wild Insects Hurts Crops Around the World

Researchers studying data from 600 fields in 20 countries have found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees, suggesting the continuing loss of wild insects in many agricultural landscapes has negative consequences for crop harvests.

The study, which prompts an urgent call to maintain and manage pollinator diversity for long-term agricultural production, is published today in the prestigious journal Science.

The 50 international researchers, including Lawrence Harder, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary, analyzed data from 41 crop systems around the world including fruits, seeds, nuts, and coffee to examine the consequences of having abundant wild pollinators for crop pollination.

"Our study demonstrates that production of many fruit and seed crops that make diets interesting, such as tomatoes, coffee and watermelon, is limited because their flowers are not adequately pollinated," says Harder. "We also show that adding more honey bees often does not fix this problem, but that increased service by wild insects would help."

Flowers of most crops need to receive pollen before making seeds and fruits, a process that is enhanced by insects that visit flowers. These pollinators, including bees, flies, butterflies and beetles, usually live in natural or semi-natural habitats, such as the edges of forests, hedgerows or grasslands. As these habitats are lost, primarily owing to conversion to agriculture, the abundance and diversity of pollinators decline and crops receive fewer visits from wild insects.

The study found that the proportion of flowers producing fruits was considerably lower in sites with fewer wild insects visiting crop flowers. Therefore, the reduction of wild insects in agricultural landscapes will likely impact both our natural heritage and agricultural harvest.

"Paradoxically, most common approaches to increase agricultural efficiency, such as cultivation of all available land and the use of pesticides, reduce the abundance and variety of wild insects that could increase production of these crops," says Harder. "Our study highlights the benefits of considering this paradox in designing and implementing agricultural systems."

The study suggests that new practices for integrated management of both honey bees and wild insects will enhance global yields of animal-pollinated crops and promote long-term agricultural production. These practices should include conservation or restoration of natural or semi-natural areas within croplands, promotion of a variety of land use, addition of diverse floral and nesting resources, and more prudent use of insecticides that can kill pollinators.

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