Some say USDA not doing to enough to address bee loss
WASHINGTON -- The problem of bees dying from colony collapse disorder and other stressors is getting worse and causing additional expenses to farmers who depend on them for pollination of fruit, vegetable, flowers and forage, but Agriculture Secr...
WASHINGTON -- The problem of bees dying from colony collapse disorder and other stressors is getting worse and causing additional expenses to farmers who depend on them for pollination of fruit, vegetable, flowers and forage, but Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer does not want more money to address the problem.
Advocates for bees and other pollinators spent much of the first week of July in Washington trying to raise awareness of pollinator problems. While farmers in California, Florida, Texas and other big fruit and vegetable states usually lobby for the issue, it's important to remember that the real home for many bees is in Plains states such as North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota and that they travel from those states to pollinate crops in the South and on the coasts. Bees are important for honey production and for pollinating forage crops in the Plains states, too.
Enough is enough
The pollinator week in Washington included staff briefings and a congressional hearing. But when Agweek asked Schafer at a farm bill implementation news conference how USDA was using new authority it was granted in the farm bill, Schafer replied that USDA is making progress on the problem and doesn't need more money.
"I know everybody's anxious about this, but I would urge those on Capitol Hill to allow the process to work through and not try to make changes in it or dump a whole bunch of extra resources on the project," Schafer said.
At a recent House Agriculture Horticulture and Organic Agriculture Subcommittee hearing, however, USDA Agricultural Research Administrator Edward Knipling said that the percentage of bees disappearing during winter rose from 31 percent in 2007 to 36 percent in 2008, about twice the typical level of losses.
"Although beekeepers are still meeting their pollination service contracts, the costs for pollination of some crops such as almonds have more than doubled over the past few years," Knipling said.
Since beekeepers and researchers first noted bees abandoning their hives in 2006, they have conducted research on the problem, but still have not identified the cause, Knipling added.
The 2008 farm bill contains additional authorization for bee research and additional authority for the Agriculture Department to make bee habitat a priority in conservation programs. Thomas Van Arsdall, a Washington lobbyist for the Pollinator Partnership, said it is still unclear how much more money appropriators may set aside for bee research or how USDA will use its new authority.
"USDA desperately needs to better coordinate their research and response to this ongoing crisis, and more clearly define their needs, so that Congress can adequately respond," House Agriculture Horticulture and Organic Agriculture Chairman Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., the author of the farm bill pollinator provisions, said at the hearing. Cardoza noted that nearly 130 different crops -- totaling more than $15 billion in annual farm gate value -- depend on pollination to grow and said that the lack of pollinators could further increase food prices.
Knipling noted that pathogens, parasites, pesticides and beekeeping practices may all contribute to colony collapse disorder. Miticides have been developed to control the varroa mite, but University of Georgia entomologist Keith Delaplane testified that the miticides may have impacts on developing bees. The bees are moved around the country as crops need pollination and some researchers believe that the stress of travel may be a factor in colony collapse. Delaplane said pesticides may not kill bees but still change their behavior and impair their ability to fight infections. Laurie Davies Adams of the San Francisco-based Pollinator Partnership also noted that feeding the traveling bees high-fructose corn syrup may be a factor in their changed behavior.