Several major agricultural groups have joined the Pollinator Partnership to ask USDA to convene a Honey Bee Nutrition and Forage Summit in October. The summit would coincide with the meeting of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC), which will be hosted by USDA.

Such a summit could “serve as a springboard for actions to improve the underlying science as well as concrete steps that can improve nutrition and forage for honey bees,” Laurie Davies Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. She said a forage summit could build on another USDA meeting scheduled for February focused on another threat to bee health, the varroa mite. 

Supporters believe the meetings could bring greater understanding of the nutritional needs of honeybees, which are threatened by an as-yet unexplained syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and more opportunities to access bee forage on the American landscape.

Marginal farmland could include more pollinator habitat, especially if more research could contribute to a better understanding of the best bee nutrition on a regional basis, said Don Parker, manager of Integrated Pest Management for the National Cotton Council, which is one of the groups encouraging a Bee Forage Summit.

“There are a lot of opportunities for us to improve the healthy habitat of bees through the use of public lands that do not have intensive agriculture,” Parker added.

While farmland areas available for bee forage could include buffer zones or Conservation Reserve Program acres, he noted that government land within the Bureau of Land Management could potentially provide bee forage on acres that are currently underutilized.

Cotton farmers are often approached by beekeepers seeking to use their property for bees during the pollinating season, Parker said, noting that cotton is a self-pollinating crop.

Still, he said, “We need to be able to cooperate with beekeepers to make sure we’re not jeopardizing their industry as well.”

Parker also said he hoped these summits could help inform the public of the multiple potential causes for bee decline, without solely focusing on pesticide use and other farm inputs.

Despite a number of claims in the general and scientific media, a cause or causes of CCD have not been identified by researchers. (See sidebar.)

Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year, according to USDA. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables are dependent on pollination by honey bees.

Sidebar: New study sheds light on CCD

A new study provides keen insight into Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which wiped out entire hives of honeybees across the U.S. It suggests that bee deaths could be linked to a plant-pathogenic RNA virus, tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV), which replicates and produce virions in honeybees, resulting in infections that hit particularly hard on weaker hives. In addition, the virus was detected inside the body of parasitic Varroa mites, which consume bee hemolymph, suggesting that Varroa mites may play a role in facilitating the spread of the virus in bee colonies. This study represents the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen could also be infected and raises awareness of potential risks of new viral disease emergence due to host shift events. About 5% of known plant viruses are pollen transmitted, and these are potential sources of future host-jumping viruses, according to the study. Researchers say these findings showcase the need for increased surveillance for potential host-jumping events as an integrated part of insect pollinator management programs. In the United States alone, honeybee pollination is valued at $14.6 billion annually.


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