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Bees

Reversing Pollinator Decline is Key to Feeding the Future

Without pollinators, we don’t eat—it’s simple as that—and, at the moment, large numbers of pollinators are dying.  With the world’s population projected to exceed 9 billion in just the next 30 years or so, that is not a good position for us to be in.

More than 90 species of U.S. specialty crops require pollination, and various animals, including bees, butterflies, moths, bats, and birds are a critical part of the pollinator-plant ecosystem.  Despite the myriad species of pollinators available, American farmers rely on one species of honey bee, Apis mellifera, for most of the pollinator services to pollinate their crops. Wild and managed bees together add $15 billion in crop value each year.

Hill Farm Buzzing with Pollinator Success

Since it’s National Pollinator Week, it seemed fitting to express my thanks to farmers Scott and Susan Hill - who run the Hill Farm outside Charlottesville, VA.  Earlier, I had the chance to visit their 10-acre property former tobacco farm to see firsthand how hard they are working to grow a variety of produce for the local customers. But there are more little workers helping on the Hill Farm too. Pollinators!

In the United States, about one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products. It’s clear that pollinators are important to the Hill Farm for their production of their artisan and specialty varieties of several vegetables, including lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes and even golden beets.  And the first year, the addition of bees increased their tomato production by 25 percent.

Learn How to Bee a Friend during USDA's Pollinator Festival this Friday, June 24

The best time to bee a friend to pollinators is now! Today is the first day of summer and the launch of National Pollinator Week, June 20-26. Around the globe, people are celebrating with events that emphasize the importance of pollinators and teach ways to save them. Here at USDA, we’ve issued the National Pollinator Week Proclamation and are hosting our seventh annual Pollinator Week Festival this Friday, June 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

The festival highlights the work of USDA agencies, other federal departments and institutions such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Smithsonian Gardens, and the U.S. Botanic Garden, who along with partners like the National Honey Board, Pollinator Partnership and University of Maryland Extension are working to address pollinator decline.

Washington Middle School Students Give Back for Third Annual Day of Service

Over the past three years, USDA has welcomed seventh-graders from Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C. to participate in “Deal Gives Back,” a day of service that empowers students to serve their community. This year was no exception. Alongside local volunteers, 118 students and faculty spent a day at USDA’s People’s Garden planting, weeding, and tilling soil to better understand how community gardens can increase access to fresh, healthy food choices in communities where nutritious options aren’t easily accessible.

All work and no play? Not a chance. After a warm welcome from USDA Assistant Secretary for Administration Dr. Gregory Parham, the students checked out demonstrations from the Agricultural Research Services’ (ARS) Bee Research and Systematic Etymology Labs to learn about insect classification, research, and the vital role pollinators play in growing healthy fruits and vegetables. And to wrap up the day, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Director Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy stopped by with a surprise treat – an invitation to try toasted mealworms. Yum!

Changes in a Key Source of Honey Bee Nutrition

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers who are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA's Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

Honey bee health and climate change would both rank high on anyone’s list of hot topics in agriculture these days.

Lewis H. Ziska, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist, with what is part of the Northeast Climate Hub in Beltsville, Maryland, knows this. He also knows that any study involving both honey bees and climate change should be carefully conducted and cautiously interpreted.  Ziska has been studying the effects of climate change on plants since 1988. He has been focusing on how rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels accompanying climate change are affecting a wide range of plants—from important food crops to noxious weeds.

'Bee'ing at White House Day at the Lab

“Whoa! Do you have bees in there?” is not something the Secret Service asks every day, even of scientists when they come to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which sits next to the White House West Wing and houses most of the staff offices.

It was just a month ago that agronomist Eton Codling, from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Crop Systems and Global Change Lab, and I, research leader of the ARS Bee Research Lab, were on our way into the White House. We were there to represent USDA at the White House Day at the Lab to give young students a taste of exciting science careers they may never have considered or even known about otherwise.

Improving Forest Practices One Beehive at a Time in Ghana

All over the world, deforestation and forest degradation are under the microscope because together they comprise the second greatest driver of climate change. If you focus on the country of Ghana, you’ll find one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa.

In fact, the country has lost nearly 90 percent of its original forests. The losses are due to a variety of factors including wood extraction and agricultural expansion. The remaining forests are home to forest elephants, Diana monkeys and many types of rare, endemic amphibians—and many rural communities that often struggle to support their families.

High Five for Pollinators: Busy Bees, Bats and Butterflies

Day and night, pollinators are at work all around us—and it's not just honey bees. Did you know that pollinators are responsible for one out of three bites of food we eat? If you'd like to learn more, we've pulled together five blogs from 2015 highlighting some surprising facts about these busy helpers and the many ways different USDA agencies, farmers, ranchers and other partners are working to keep all pollinators healthy.

A Diet to Help Conserve Bees When Food Is Scarce

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The fact that honey bees are a critical link in pollinating plants, especially our crops, has become better known to the public in the past few years. In exchange for their labor, flowers provide bees with pollen and nectar as food. But few people wonder what’s available for bees to eat when there are few plants blooming in the late fall and early winter.

During such times of the year, with little natural food available, honey bee colonies usually fade a little. But this is exactly the time of year when beekeepers want their colonies to be producing lots of healthy, robust bees ready to be trucked to California to plunge into pollinating millions of almond blossoms in February.

New Guide Helps Citizens Customize Their Gardens for Native Bees

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Dogged by pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and other problems, the European honey bee is having a rough time these days. The bee pollinates over 90 different kinds of fruit, vegetable and nut crops. These same crops are also pollinated by native bees, particularly on smaller or diversified farms and especially in home gardens. Together, their pollination services are an $18 billion annual asset to U.S. agriculture, and concern over their welfare prompted the White House in May to issue a directive aimed at bolstering their numbers and health through a series of initiatives including improving and expanding pollinator habitat.

Citizen involvement is another component. Among the actions citizens can take is growing nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants; another is “customizing” garden or landscaping areas to make them more hospitable to these pollinators—especially native bees, says entomologist Jim Cane, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS)  Pollinating Insect–Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah.