Last week’s cover of TIME magazine featured a story about the rapid rate of decline of honeybee populations across the globe. The article focuses on the question of the price we’ll pay if we don’t figure out what is killing the honeybee. A daunting thought when you think about the fact that one-third of all food and beverages are made possible through pollination and pollinators are valued at $15 billion annually.
This morning, Jim Jones from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), author Hannah Nordhaus and I joined TIME journalist Bryan Walsh on Twitter to discuss the topic and what is being done and what needs to be done. If you happened to miss the Twitter chat, you can follow what was said by searching #TIMEbees.
There are many theories about the plight of the honeybees, yet none of the research is conclusive to one single cause for the massive number of honeybee deaths. This May, USDA and EPA released a scientific report echoing this conclusion – there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.
The reports key findings show just how complex of an issue this is. The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as a major factor underlying colony loss in the United States and other countries. U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity to improve their temperature regulation, disease resistance and worker productivity. Bees need better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health, as a nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. We need better communication between growers, beekeepers and industry on best practices to protect bees from pesticides. And lastly, we need more research to determine actual pesticide exposures and effects to bees in the field and on the health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.
While this is a multi-faceted issue, USDA remains committed to finding solutions that ensure bee survival. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has funded numerous projects on honeybee health; specifically the University of Maryland is leading a project on developing a nationwide network to monitor and maintain honey bee health. And a project at the University of Georgia has produced a number of articles on the causes of colony loss.
Honeybee survival is critical to sustaining our country’s long-term agricultural productivity, and in the coming years, this topic will remain a priority for NIFA and USDA as a whole.