U.S. bees get $3 million

BY Sarah Sheffer  February 25, 2014 at 3:18 PM EDT
Colonies of bees have been disappearing since 2006. Photo by Flickr user Andreas

Bee colonies have been in peril since 2006. Photo by Flickr user Andreas

The United States Department of Agriculture is set to provide $3 million for the nation’s ailing bees. Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD has hit the honey bee population hard since 2006, when scientists recognized that colonies were disappearing. Bees would simply fly off and die far from their hives.

The funding, announced Tuesday, will provide technical and financial support for interested farmers to help improve bee health in the Midwest where the insects are integral to crop production.

“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “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.”

Farmers in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin can all apply for the federal assistance. From June to September, the region is home to more than 65 percent of commercially managed bees in the country. The pollinators are generally brought to the region at that time by commercial beekeepers, who have also been hit hard by the hive health epidemic. The season is crucial for the insects, as bees heavily forage and build up resources for the winter.

The aid will help farmers implement conservation practices recommended by scientists who have been studying colony collapse this past decade. The practices aim to provide bees with diverse and safe food sources, improve soil health, prevent erosion and stave off invasive species.

Scientists largely have been vexed by bee disappearance. A study released by the USDA and EPA last summer said no single causal factor was to blame for the hive losses. Instead, a combination of pesticide exposure, lack of food diversity and a variety of pests and pathogens were the culprit.

According to the report, nearly a third of the nation’s bees die off every year.

However, the USDA said on Tuesday that significant progress has been made in understanding the phenomenon. The aid package comes as part of a push to understand and prevent honeybee deaths.