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USDA plans to provide more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees, which play an important role in crop production.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states – Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. NRCS is building on a $3 million pilot investment in fiscal 2014. The pilot is being renewed and expanded in fiscal 2015 in response to its early successes and continued high levels of interest.
“The future of America’s food supply depends on honey bees as an estimated $15 billion worth of crops is pollinated by honey bees, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables,” said Jimmy Bramblett, State Conservationist for Wisconsin. “This effort is one way NRCS is helping improve the health of honey bee populations. We need to continue to work to combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year.”
Funding will be provided to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to plan and promote habitat that will provide nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis at local USDA service centers. In Wisconsin, applications received by Dec. 19, 2014, will be ranked for funding in 2015.
From June to September, the Midwest is where more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country overwinter. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.
The assistance announced today will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. For example, appropriate cover crops or pasture management may provide quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as reduce erosion, increase the health of their soil, and inhibit invasive species.
Studies have shown that beekeepers are losing about 30 percent of their honey bee colonies each year, up from historical norms of 10-15 percent overwintering losses experienced prior to 2006. Significant progress has been made in understanding of the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and Vilsack said this effort is one of many that USDA has underway to address the issue.
“The 2014 Farm Bill kept pollinators as a high priority, and these conservation efforts are one way we’re working to help this important species in Wisconsin,” Bramblett said.
Interested landowners should contact the NRCS office at the USDA Service Center at 1960 Eight Avenue Suite 122 Baldwin, WI 54002,715-684-2874 Ext3 For more information, visit www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov.