USDA plans to invest $4M in Midwest for conservation work that helps honey bees

The USDA plans to provide more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees, which play an important role in crop production.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states – Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. NRCS is building on a $3 million pilot investment in fiscal 2014. The pilot is being renewed and expanded in fiscal 2015 in response to its early successes and continued high levels of interest.
“The future of America’s food supply depends on honey bees as an estimated $15 billion worth of crops is pollinated by honey bees, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables,” said Mary Podoll, state conservationist for North Dakota. “This effort is one way NRCS is helping improve the health of honey bee populations. We need to continue to work to combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year.”
Funding will be provided to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to plan and promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment. Applications for this effort are due Nov. 21.
From June to September, the Midwest is where more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.
The assistance announced today will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, and providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators.
This year, several NRCS state offices are also setting aside additional funds for similar efforts, including California – where more than half of all managed honey bees in the U.S. help pollinate almond groves and other agricultural lands – as well as Ohio and Florida.
Studies have shown that beekeepers are losing about 30 percent of their honey bee colonies each year, up from historical norms of 10-15 percent overwintering losses experienced prior to 2006. Significant progress has been made in understanding of the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and Vilsack said this effort is one of many that USDA has underway to address the issue.
“The 2014 Farm Bill kept pollinators as a high priority, and these conservation efforts are one way we’re working to help this important species in North Dakota,” Podoll said.


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