Summer is a time when we think of picnics, outdoor gatherings and recreational activities, but it is also a time when our farmers are working hard to ensure all Americans have access to a safe, healthy and affordable food supply. Among the hardest workers in many farms and backyard gardens is the honey bee, Aphis mellifera. As we recognize National Pollinator Week (June 16-22), it is appropriate that we reflect on the importance of bees to our economy, as well as the challenges that beekeepers and farmers face in helping to ensure our nation's agricultural sustainability.
Coming from a fourth-generation farming family in California, I know that many of our crops could not be produced as efficiently without these useful pollinators. More than half of the 2.5 million commercial bee colonies in the United States are needed to pollinate California almonds and the value of honey bees as insect pollinators across all crops is estimated between $15-20 billion annually. Unfortunately, honey bees are faced with many issues and their continued utility cannot be taken for granted.
Although the number of commercial honey bee colonies in the U.S. has been relatively stable since the late 1990's, bee losses following the winter season have averaged nearly 30 percent in recent years, more than twice what had been seen historically. Fortunately, reports that this year's winter losses were much closer to historical averages is encouraging news to everyone who cares about bee health. It is also a reminder that our collective efforts can and will make a difference.
Most scientists agree that multiple factors can negatively impact honeybee health. These include parasites, diseases, adverse weather, forage loss, crop and hive protection products, nutritional deficiencies, and hive management practices. Of particular importance is the Varroa mite, a parasite introduced in the U.S. during the late 1980's, which the USDA found is the "single most detrimental pest of honey bees, and is closely associated with overwintering colony declines". Understanding how to best manage this serious pest remains a critical gap in our efforts to improve honey bee health.
A comprehensive federal response to address the key factors affecting pollinator health through increased biodiversity and agricultural sustainability remains a key consideration. The National Resource Conservation Service, working with growers, private industry, and other state and federal agencies, is focused on increasing forage options for bee colonies, including the management of public land to increase available forage for pollinators. Although more research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs, engagement by all agricultural stakeholders is essential.
As a member of the House Agricultural Committee, I am pleased to see the agricultural industry's commitment to stewardship and the protection of beneficial insects, including pollinators. Research-based companies are investing millions of dollars into fruitful bee health research and are working collaboratively with farmers, beekeepers, legislators and regulators to ensure that the vital products used to protect crops from destructive pests will not impact long-term colony health. This is essential, as sustainable agriculture depends both on crop protection products and pollinators.
Beginning seven years ago with unanimous Congressional approval, National Pollinator Week has become an international celebration. It is also a reminder to all of us of the critical role pollinators play in our society.
I urge all Americans to take the opportunity to learn - and enjoy – what this week has to offer. Only by working together can we ensure that these important insects are available to help grow the food we need now and in the future.
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