A little more than six years ago, 30 scientists and beekeepers from around the country met on Hutchinson Island to discuss a mysterious honeybee disorder that threatened the future of the nation’s agriculture.
Since that February 2007 conference, millions of dollars have been spent on research to attempt to solve what is called colony collapse disorder. The major symptom of the disorder is that bees abandon their hives, never to return. The confusing and devastating phenomenon is still happening, with beekeepers reporting 31 percent losses from all causes once again last winter.
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Why we need the honey bees and where their health stands
Healthy honey bee colonies are critical for meeting the demands of food production in the United States.
Currently, the survivorship of honey bee colonines is too low for researchers to have confidence that the nation’s crop pollination needs can be met.
Historically, the U.S. had as many as 6 million colonies in 1947, with declines since then to 4 million in 1970 and 3 million in 1990. Today’s colony strength is about 2.5 million.
Pollination demands have increased in recent years. California’s almond crop requires more than 60 percent of the nation’s managed colonies.
Honey bee colonies have been dying at a rate of about 30 percent a year over the past few winters, which leaves virtually no cushion of bees.
Source: Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health
More than 100 crops require pollination to be their most productive.
Some of them are:
Apples, avocados, blueberries, canola, cantaloupe, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, grapefruit, macadamia nuts, pears, plums, prunes, pumpkins, soybeans, squash, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, vegetable seeds, watermelons.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Although there’s no comprehensive amount available for how much has been spent on bee-related research from private, state and federal sources, federal funding for bee research has increased
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service has long been a major source of bee research funding.
Before Colony Collapse Disorder became widespread, the Department of Agriculture devoted about $7.6 million a year to all types of bee research.
It began to step up funding in fiscal year 2009 and in 2012, allocated $10.1 million. This fiscal year funding amounts to $11.4 million.
Its sister agency, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has funded all types of pollinator research for years, including $2.8 milion in 2004. From 2008 to 2010, funding ranged from $3.4 to $4.3 million, and in 2011, reached $11.2 million.