A new report identifies numerous reasons why honey bees are dying off across the United States. Sonny Ramaswamy, the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, says most people do not realize how dependent states like Iowa are on honey bees and other insects or animals that transfer pollen.
He says the production of up to 30-billion dollars annually in agricultural product depends on pollinators. “Crops like almonds, cucumbers, blueberries, apples, alfalfa — there’s a whole host of others as well — that are directly dependent on pollination in order to be able to produce set fruit,” Ramaswamy says.
A wide range of people with interest in the problem s met last fall to try and figure out why the honey bees are dying. Ramaswamy says the report released this week by the U.S.D.A. which summarized the conference could not point the finger at one problem.
“The decline in the pollinator health that we have observed in recent years is truly due to a whole host of factors, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure as well. You can’t really parse any one out as being the smoking gun,” according to Ramaswamy.
The report found the number of honey bee colonies has been cut in half since the late 1940’s. And colonies are dying at a rate of 30-percent per year over the last few winters. Ramaswamy says the effort to reverse those trends is far reaching. He says agencies are working to add pollinator-friendly habitats to federal lands and to encourage ranchers and farmers to do the same.
“And we’re working to train our own field staff on honeybee health so that they can better support efforts on our working lands as well,” Ramaswamy says. The EPA says it is also working with farmers… seed companies… bee keepers and pesticide companies on the best practices for pesticide use.
But the agency says it is not going as far as the European Union in banning certain products that have been blamed for killing honey bees. Those involved in last fall’s conference say this report is the first step in the lengthy process of restoring honey bee colonies to their previous levels.