It’s been some time now since the honey bee crisis issue has been baffling all concerned. What I've learned lately:
* First, this issue is a very big deal. Last winter, half of U.S. hives were lost, according to some sources. That’s a much higher number than in recent years, which have averaged 33%--already an unsustainable level.
* A third of what we eat and drink depends on the contribution of pollinators. And in some places and at certain times of the year, the creatures are now in very short supply—blueberries in Maine and almonds in California suffered last year as a result of honey bee shortages, for example.
* We don’t seem to know all that much finally about what’s going on in the bee world. A new report from USDA and EPA found no “smoking gun” in the honey bee health crisis. You can’t blame the whole problem on increased insecticide use, as some would like. Many factors apparently are in play—weather, parasites, nutrition, lack of genetic diversity…. But corn production is getting a hard look for its use of insecticide-treated seed and destruction of pollinator habitat.
* Bees participate in corn and soybean agriculture. In a recent interview, Matt O'Neal, an Iowa State University researcher, told me that soybean yields may get a 10 to 30 percent boost as a result of bee activity. He says that researchers in Ames have found up to two dozen types of pollinators active in corn and soybean fields.
The impacts of row crops on pollinators likely will get increased scrutiny as time goes by. Making the world safe for corn has its tradeoffs, some of which people may find are not always worth making.
It’s Pollinator Week—of all things--and I’m going to recognize it by attending a field day in Nebraska to see what I can learn. I’m also going to see how our pollinator habitat plans out there are faring. We’re preparing an 8-acre planting in a patch of CRP that’s just been re-enrolled for seven years.
There are things every farmer can do to contribute to solving this pollinator problem. Here are a few resources: