WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2015 – While environmental groups are putting pressure on the EPA to rein in agricultural chemical companies on the production and use of neonicotinoids, agricultural entities are encouraging government agencies to work with beekeepers in providing access to federal- and state-owned land with healthy forage for pollinators.
Studies attribute bee losses to multiple factors, including loss of forage and nutrition, the varroa mite, as well as pesticide use. Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, which represents several companies that produce crop protection products, including neonicotinoids, said EPA and USDA have increasingly focused on state management plans within the last few months.
“They’re trying to drive a lot of this into the hands of state officials and closer to farmers and beekeepers, where local conditions are taken into account,” he said. Attention on improving bee forage is increasing, Vroom says, adding that it’s “one of those categories that doesn’t require any government regulatory action.”
The Pollinator Partnership, which works with government and industry partners to deliver conservation, education, and research, promotes the Highways BEE Act, or H.R. 4790, introduced in Congress last year. The bill promotes conservation practices on 17 million acres of highway rights-of-way by encouraging state transportation departments to reduce mowing and plant for pollinators.
Tom Van Arsdall, spokesman for the Pollinator Partnership, anticipates the Highways BEE Act will be re-introduced in the next few weeks.
While efforts to improve forage along highways is widely supported, there can be unintended consequences of planting certain forage mixtures. Vroom said some plants in roadside ditches might inadvertently attract deer and increase auto collisions. “They can attract more deer than bees,” he said.
Don Parker, the National Cotton Council's manager of Integrated Pest Management, said this illustrates that there are no simple solutions. “It may sound simple that we need forage and habitat, but we have to keep in mind that it does impact other things,” he said.
Van Arsdall said there have been a smattering of projects and initiatives focused on increasing health forage for pollinators, but so far there is no centralized effort.
For example, the Pollinator Partnership promotes an initiative sponsored by Burt’s Bees, called the Bee Buffer Project, and is looking for farmers and ranchers to dedicate a piece of land a quarter acre to three acres in size and plant it with the U.S. Bee Buffer seed mix. “The lack of dedicated foraging habitat puts stress on honey bees and the cropping systems the bees pollinate,” according to the project site. The project is concentrating on areas in California and North Carolina.
Additionally, Project Apis m (PAm), a non-profit organization run by beekeepers with a goal to fund and direct research to enhance the “health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production,” encouraged almond growers to use PAm seed mixes developed to provide floral diversity before and after almond bloom in California.
“With proper nutrition, bees can fend off pests and parasites and cope with pesticides and transportation stress,” states PAm, which has established acreage, seed mixes, seed suppliers, and planting regimes. Nearly 1.7 million bee colonies will be brought to California in February and March to pollinate the 2015 almond crop.
In June, President Barack Obama established the Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The task force is charged with developing a National Pollinator Strategy, which is expected to be released at the end of February.
Parker, of the National Cotton Council, said he hopes the presidential task force will provide access to federal lands that have improved pollinator forage. In NCC’s comments to the task force, the group called for an evaluation of the federal government’s land resources and the improvement of bee habitat in those areas. For example, he said the Bureau of Land Management could provide beekeepers access to land that is surrounded by areas of minimum pesticide use.
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture submitted official comments to the task force in November, encouraging it “to support and recommend a state-driven approach to develop and implement solutions through a public-private partnership.”
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