USDA signs MOU with beekeeping groups

By Stephen Davies

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WASHINGTON, June 23, 2016 - USDA has signed an agreement with two major beekeeping organizations to help beekeepers take advantage of the department's conservation programs.

The department also said that according to a new review of acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, “farmers and ranchers across the country have created more than 15 million acres of healthy habitat and forage for pollinators.” Nearly 270,000 acres are enrolled in one pollinator-specific program, but pollinators “are also helped by several other CRP initiatives on private land that provide wildflowers, shrubs, and safe nesting sites through measures that are intended to improve water quality or create bird habitat.”

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The announcement coincides with National Pollinator Week (June 20-26), which USDA is celebrating with a festival tomorrow.

“Pollinators are small but mighty creatures who need our help as much as we need theirs, and that is why USDA is dedicating resources from all corners of our department to boost their habitat and better understand how to protect them,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“In addition to creating healthy habitat and food for pollinators through our conservation work, USDA research is leading to breakthroughs in pollinator survival that may reverse the declines we've seen over the past few decades. We look forward to continued collaboration with America's beekeepers and honey producers to ensure this work is meaningful and effective.”

Honey bees, it is often said, are responsible through crop pollination for one of every three bites of food taken by Americans. Their value to U.S. agriculture is estimated at $15 billion per year. But they have been struggling. “In 2015, beekeepers reported losing about 40 percent of honey bee colonies, threatening the viability of their livelihoods and the essential pollination services their bees provide to agriculture,” USDA said. “Monarch butterflies, too, are in jeopardy. The number of overwintering Monarchs in Mexico's forests has declined by 90 percent or more over the past two decades, placing the iconic annual North American Monarch migration at risk.”

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Native bees and other insect pollinators, as well as bats and birds also contribute to pollination.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the American Honey Producers Association and the American Beekeeping Federation, “to facilitate an ongoing partnership that will ensure USDA's conservation initiatives are as advantageous as possible to pollinators and that beekeepers understand how they can benefit from USDA's conservation and safety net programs,” USDA said in a news release.

A year ago, President Barack Obama announced a national strategy to benefit pollinators, which called for 7 million acres of land to be enhanced or restored for pollinators. “Since then, USDA has more than tripled the acreage enrolled in CRP's pollinator initiative, through which USDA helps to cover the cost of planting pollinator-friendly wildflowers, legumes and shrubs, and USDA has increased the limit on this initiative in response to landowner demand so that more acres can be enrolled in the future,” the department said. 

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