Feds unveil plan to save honey bees --- and $15 billion in crops they pollinate

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Agriculture,Energy and Environment,Bees,Insects,Tom Vilsack

Claiming that the future of American food production depends on a revived honey bee population, the Agriculture Department on Tuesday announced it will spend $3 million to help ranchers and farmers improve the health of the bugs, key to pollinating $15 billion worth of food.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement, “Expanded support for research, combined with USDA's other efforts to improve honey bee health, should help America's beekeepers combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year.”

The money will be in the form of financial assistance and technical help targeted to five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

"Honey bee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet. The future security of America's food supply depends on healthy honey bees," added Vilsack.

The bee industry has been under assault from pests and enemies for years, but the recent emergence of mysterious “Colony Collapse Disorder” has resulted in the deaths of 30 percent to 50 percent of honey bee colonies each year, double the normal rate.

Ag said the assistance “will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.”

The area was chosen because over 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country are dropped in farms in the five states.

Bee managers would also like the administration to limit the use of exotic pesticides which them blame for some of the colony deaths.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.