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Vilsack: Protecting our pollinators

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Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its partners released the results of the eight annual national survey of honey bee losses.

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The survey shows good news — fewer honey bee colonies were lost this winter than in previous years. According to survey results, total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide.

That figure is a significant improvement over the 30.5 percent loss reported last winter, but it is still higher than the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent and still far above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability.

While we’re pleased to see improvement this year, these losses are still too high.

There is still more work to be done to stabilize honey bee populations and ensure the health of pollinator populations and the health of the American population — nearly one-third of our diet, including many berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables, comes from plants pollinated by honey bees and other pollinators.

That is why USDA continues to aggressively support research and initiatives that will lead to long-term solutions to improve honey bee health.

Our Agricultural Research Service has put together a program to breed bees that can naturally resist varroa mites, a major factor contributing to honey bee colony declines.

Earlier this year, we provided $3 million in technical and financial assistance to encourage farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to grow alfalfa, clover and other flowering habitat on working lands to benefit bees and other pollinators.

In addition, the administration’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal dedicates $71 million for efforts to respond to the decline in honey bee health and support their recovery. Included in this request is funding for the Pollinator and Pollinator Health Innovation Institute, which will support further exploration of the biological, environmental and management issues associated with honey bee decline.

Additionally, this week we launched a new tool to increase public awareness about the reduction of bee populations. The People’s Garden Apiary bee cam at our headquarters will broadcast honey bee hive activity live online at www.usda.gov/beewatch. To learn more about USDA and our partners’ efforts to improve honey bee health and how you can help by adopting pollinator-friendly land management practices at home, on the farm, and within your local community, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/pollinators.

Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture. Contact him at www.usda.gov.

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