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USDA Helping Honeybees With $3M To Improve Feeding Grounds

Image: USDA Helping Honeybees With $3M To Improve Feeding Grounds

Wednesday, 26 Feb 2014 08:48 AM

By Michael Mullins

The USDA is helping honeybees with plans to spend $3 million to improve farmlands and pastures in the Midwest and in the process help feed bees that in recent years have seen their numbers continually dwindle due to the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans aimed at helping farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas by improving pastures frequented by honeybees.

Many beekeepers bring hives to the Upper Midwest in the summer for bees to gather nectar and pollen for food, the Associated Press reported. The honeybees are then trucked to California and other states in the spring where they pollinate everything from almonds to apples to avocadoes.

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"Honey bee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release.

"The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees," Vilsack added. "Expanded support for research, combined with USDA’s other efforts to improve honey bee health, should help America’s beekeepers combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year."

Since the winter of 2006, as much as one-third of the nation's honeybees have disappeared due to colony collapse disorder.

Though the official cause of the massive honey bee die-off has yet to be determined, scientists and beekeepers alike suspect that pesticides likely play a role.

Additionally, the arrival of Varroa mites, which reportedly spread a virus among bees, has increased the honey bee's decline to a greater extent, according to scientists.

The USDA hopes to stem those losses by providing more areas for bees to build up food stores and strength for winter. The new program will be "a real shot in the arm" for improving bees' habitat and food supply, said Jason Weller, chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the AP reported.

In order to qualify for the USDA money, dairy farmers and ranchers in the above mentioned Midwest states must reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other plants appealing to both bees and livestock.

The money can also reportedly be used towards the construction of fences to prevent grazing animals from wandering into pastures preferred by the bees and grazing on the vegetation that attracts the valuable, pollinating insects.

"It's a win for the livestock guys, and it's a win for the managed honeybee population," Weller added. "And it's a win then for orchardists and other specialty crop producers across the nation because then you're going to have a healthier, more robust bee population that then goes out and helps pollinate important crops."

In its press release, the USDA estimates that 65 percent of the nation's estimated 30,000 commercial beekeepers bring their hives to the five states above, which is the reason why they were selected.

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