June 22, 2016 - This week, June 20-26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is celebrating National Pollinator Week and recognizing all the ways these important creatures contribute to our food supply, environment and economy. Just over a year ago, the Obama Administration released a "National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators," which USDA leads along with our partners at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Honey bees are the "work horse" of US agricultural pollination in that they facilitate the reproduction of more than 120 crops. Honey bee 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. Other pollinators who contribute to this tremendously valuable service include native bees and other insect pollinators, birds, and bats.
But pollinators are struggling. In 2015, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of honey bee colonies, threatening the viability of their livelihoods and the essential pollination services their bees provide to agriculture. Monarch butterflies, too, are in jeopardy. The number of overwintering Monarchs in Mexico's forests has declined by 90% or more over the past two decades, placing the iconic annual North American Monarch migration at risk.
Under the President's National Strategy, as well as through other existing efforts, USDA is working to build healthy habitat for pollinators, conduct research to better understand the causes of their population declines, and raise public awareness about steps that all of us can take that will help to boost their numbers.
Improving pollinator habitat and forage:
- Through the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program, 15 million acres of privately owned land are enrolled in conservation practices that benefit pollinators. Of these, 269,000 acres are enrolled in a special pollinator-specific initiative, but these creatures are also helped by several other Conservation Reserve Program practices on private land.
- USDA is collaborating with the U.S. Geological Survey to measure honey bees' use of conservation covers and assess the effectiveness of conservation efforts to help honey bees.
- USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers more than three dozen conservation practices that can benefit pollinator habitat. In early FY 2016 NRCS announced the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project and up to $4 million to establish and improve habitat. This monarch effort builds on a similar targeted honey bee effort in the Midwest/Northern Plains, and will lead to other natural resource benefits, such as improved water quality, healthier soils and more productive working lands.
- The U.S. Forest Service is restoring and improving pollinator habitat on national forests and grasslands, as well as working with nations with which we share a border, and conducting research on pollinators.
- USDA has distributed 375,500 pollinator-friendly seed packets across the country increase pollinator habitat in both urban and rural areas.
Conducting and supporting research into pollinator health:
- The Agricultural Research Service maintains four laboratories that conduct research into bee genetics, breeding, biology and physiology, with special focus on bee nutrition, pathogens and parasites, the effects of pesticide exposure and the interactions between each of these factors.
- ARS is organizing a new National Bee Genebank to ensure that the genetic diversity of honey bees, especially for traits such as resistance to pests or diseases and pollination efficiency is preserved.
- USDA's National Institutes of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has funded research by the University of Nevada to identify a treatment for American foulbrood, a bacterial disease that affects honey bees.
- Michigan State University is also using a grant from NIFA to research sustainable pollination strategies and evaluate the effects of farm wildflower enhancements to increase wild bee diversity and crop yields. NIFA is currently seeking applications for a total of $16.8 million in grant funding for additional research projects with an emphasis on pollinator health.
- Since 2007 the National Science Laboratories (NSL), a part of the Agricultural Marketing Service, has provided pesticide residue testing services to honey bee stakeholders, supporting research into honey bee health issues. As part of the long-term efforts focusing on the causes of honey bee decline, the NSL tests a broad range of pesticide residues in honey bee products—including pollen, beeswax, honey, nectar, royal jelly and the bees themselves.
Connecting people and pollinators:
- USDA has installed 20,740 square feet of pollinator-friendly landscaping at the USDA Headquarters complex since 2009 with more to come.
- 2,512 community gardens located in all 50 states, three U.S. territories and twelve foreign countries are registered as People's Gardens and directly support pollinators.
- ARS is cooperating in teaching beekeeping workshops to veterans and about-to-transition from-active-service personnel, who find working with honey bees to be therapeutic and stress relieving as well as offering job potential.
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