The White House Pollinator Health Task Force has released an ambitious strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators that, if realized, would ensure a more stable supply of domestic honey bees for almonds and other crops.
The report details goals for the federal government to meet related to honey bee health, monarch populations, and forage for pollinators.
The comprehensive “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators,” released in May, calls on more than a dozen federal agencies, along with public and private partnerships, to reduce overwintering pollinator losses to no more than 15 percent within a decade.
Recent overwintering losses range between 20 percent and 30 percent.
The national strategy takes approaches supported by the Almond Board of California (ABC) and others engaged in finding solutions to the issue of declining honey bee health.
The ABC was among several stakeholders invited to initial White House meetings discussing challenges to the health of honey bees and other pollinators and the type of issues that should be addressed in a federal strategy.
The ABC also participated in a Varroa mite summit and bee nutrition summit, both hosted by USDA.
One of the three goals of the national strategy is to restore and enhance seven million acres of pollinator forage on public and private lands over the next five years.
In order to reduce losses and increase forage, the national strategy aims to better align research priorities and outreach to address these specific goals for pollinator health.
Federal agencies involved in the strategy include:
- USDA Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which have a research orientation;
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which provides incentives for growers to develop pollinator habitat;
- Farm Service Agency, which administers the Conservation Reserve Program and other crop-related programs that impact pollinator forage;
- U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, tasked with finding opportunities where honey bee hives could be situated on public lands for expanded forage opportunities; and
- Department of Defense, which will look at incorporating measures to encourage and enhance pollinator habitat at their sites and facilities.
Just as these federal agencies are looking at ways to improve habitat on public lands, almond growers and other farmers who rely on honey bees have explored and continue to explore ways to improve habitat for pollinators on farms and ranches.
ABC, through its partnership with Project Apis m., encourages almond growers to plant bee forage seed blends of vetch, clover, and other native blooming plants to provide supplemental forage before and after almond bloom.
A number of private seed companies also have specially blended seed mixes available.
Growers find that planting these supplemental crops as cover crops in and around orchards not only provide a food source for bees beyond almond bloom, but can also help fix nitrogen in the soil and improve irrigation management.
In addition to working toward improving pollinator habitat, the national strategy also focuses on directing and coordinating research related to stressors on pollinators, including Varroa mites, nutrition, arthropod, and disease pests, pesticide exposure, and a lack of genetic diversity in breeding.
Many of the research priorities identified in the strategy align closely with ABC’s research priorities related to honey bee health over the last two decades. ABC has funded over 90 projects on honey bee research since 1995 to improve bee nutrition and forage, effectively manage pests and diseases, improve breeding stock, and assess the impact of pesticides used on almonds.
The Board also supports tech transfer teams that provide technical assistance and hive pest monitoring for beekeepers. This service enhances the delivery and adoption of new research.
For the latest on western agriculture, please check out Western Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
Tech transfer teams already receive temporary support from the NIFA through a grant to the Bee Informed Partnership. The strategy calls for increased funding to NIFA for pollinator related projects.
The task force’s goal of reducing overwinter losses to 15 percent is an achievable standard that would ensure stability in the food supply by providing certainty for growers and a variety of affordable, American-grown produce for consumers.
The almond industry stands ready to help the Task Force meet its objectives of restoring or enhancing seven million acres of quality habitat for pollinators and bolstering pollinator health research.