WASHINGTON, May 15, 2014 – Honey bee colonies in the U.S. had fewer losses over this past winter than in recent years but the losses are still too high for the pollinator population to be sustainable, according to an annual survey of beekeepers by USDA.

Total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide, according to the survey results, USDA said today in a news release. The acceptable level for economic sustainability is 18.9 percent, beekeeper say. Still, last winter’s losses were an improvement from the 30.5 percent loss for the previous winter, and better than the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent.

“Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release. "While we're glad to see improvement this year, losses are still too high and there is still much more work to be done to stabilize bee populations.”

Since the mid-2000s, beekeepers have been reporting dramatic over-winter declines in honey bee populations, a syndrome that’s been named Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. The losses pose a significant threat to U.S. agriculture, which relies on pollinators such as bees to produce some $15 annually in fruit, vegetables, nuts and flower, or, as USDA said today, “one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.”

Researchers say there is no single cause behind CCD, but have pointed to a range of factors, including viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides.

“Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become,” said Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

The winter losses survey covers the period from October 2013 through April 2014. About 7,200 beekeepers responded to the voluntary survey.

USDA also announced that it will hold a summit in October in Washington aimed at addressing the nutrition and forage needs of pollinators. The conference will be attended by a consortium of public, private, and non-governmental organizations. Attendees will discuss the most recent research related to pollinator loss and work to identify solutions.

To help increase public awareness about the decline in bee populations, USDA today launched its “bee cam” at the People’s Garden it maintains at its headquarters in Washington. The USDA "Bee Watch" website will broadcast honey bee hive activity live over the Internet 24 hours per day, seven days a week.


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