Ag leaders adopt measure to protect honeybees

The nation's top state agriculture officials have urged the federal government to work with them in developing strategies for promoting the health and welfare of bees.

At its recent annual meeting in Asheville, NC, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) adopted a policy amendment recommending that the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS) work with state agriculture departments to implement “pollinator plans.” 

“These plans should emphasize enhanced communication between beekeepers and agriculture producers,” said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who introduced the amendment. “The overall goal is to ensure that beekeepers continue to have access to areas with adequate forage that will support bee health to sustain a pollinator population for flowering crops and a peaceful co-existence between beekeepers and agriculture producers.”

Goehring said the amendment is in response to increasing losses of honeybees to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious syndrome involving disappearing adult honeybees. The cause of CCD is largely unknown, although poor nutrition, lack of adequate forage, decreased genetic diversity, viruses and parasites are suspected factors.  Pesticides have also been implicated, although more research is needed to determine field-level pesticide exposures to bees.

“The primary use of the land is for crop and livestock production,” he said. “Beekeepers and farmers can work together to identify optimum hive placement with respect to bee habitat, water, forage, and cultivation practices that reduce the risk of pesticide exposure without interfering with agricultural activities.”

Domestic and wild bees are important to U.S. agriculture. Bees are needed to pollinate over 90 crops in the U.S., and pollination services have an annual estimated value to U.S. agriculture of $19 billion. Honeybees also produce 147 million pounds of honey nationally each year, with an annual value of $286 million.

North Dakota has led the nation in honey production for nine consecutive years. In 2012, the state's beekeepers produced 34.2 million pounds of honey valued at $64.6 million.