Here's hope for the bees: A manifesto

Here's hope for the bees: A manifesto

We need bees. As a beekeeper, an entomologist, a conservationist, an agribusiness scientist and a consultant, we humbly acknowledge that our jobs depend on them. As do much of your diet and our economy.

Bees are big business. The real economic value of bees comes from more than honey: it comes from pollination.

By some estimates, one-third of global food production relies on pollinators. Honey bees and other insects pollinate 80 percent of flowering plants — including almonds, apples, broccoli, strawberries and alfalfa for beef and dairy cattle.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, honey bees support $18 billion of America’s annual agriculture production. In economic terms, bees provide more value than chicken and come in below only cattle and pigs. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack got it right: “The future of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees.”

The news is filled with stories about declining bee health — even the potential collapse of bee populations altogether. The impact goes way beyond the beehive. Whole supply chains are at risk: big sections of the grocery store, entire menu categories at restaurants and significant numbers of consumer goods either go away or become a lot harder to produce.

For that reason, many of my peers and I have come together to form a new Honey Bee Health Coalition. Comprehensive solutions are out there, and we are dedicated to accelerating them. But we need your help.

The Beekeeper: Randy Verhoek of the American Honey Producers Association

"I can tell you that running honey bees has gotten a lot harder. I’ve worked with bees most of my life, and I’ve seen their decline firsthand. The tough part, though, is it’s not just one thing, it’s a bunch of things making bees sick. And it will take a bunch of us — beekeepers, growers, crop producers, ag companies, food companies, government agencies, conservationists, scientists, academics, and more — to make things better. To make sure that happens, as president of the American Honey Producers Association, I helped launch the HBHC in June during National Pollinator Week."

The Entomologist: Dennis van Engelsdorp of the University of Maryland

"When we first investigated reports of extreme colony losses in the winter of 2006-2007, I and other entomologists thought determining the cause would be simple: a new virus, a pesticide or some other single issue. That was naïve. Honey bees and other pollinators face complex problems. Evidence suggests that disease and parasite management, farm practices, government policies, pesticide registration and use, landscape and climate all contribute to colony losses. A multi-causal problem requires a multi-pronged solution. And that’s why I, and many others, have high hopes for the HBHC. Bringing a wide and diverse group of players to the table, the coalition has increased the odds of finding common ground to implement and achieve the multilevel changes we need to positively affect beekeepers, pollinators and society in general."

The Agribusiness Scientist: Keri Carstens of DuPont Pioneer

"At DuPont Pioneer, we recognize the importance of both pest-control options and pollinators to the agricultural industry. These are not mutually exclusive. Pollinator health is a complex and interconnected issue; we value the collaborative and holistic approach the HBHC is taking. We chose to join because we feel this group is best positioned to make an impact through its focus on all aspects of this issue. The coalition will play a vital role in helping identify the best practices that will benefit everyone."

The Conservationist: Christi Heintz of Project Apis m.

"As the go-to organization at the intersection of honey bees and pollinated crops, PAm works to enhance the health and vitality of honey bees while improving crop production. The HBHC will allow PAm to accomplish even more than we can accomplish alone. The HBHC can and will go above and beyond what individual members can do on their own. The HBHC gives us access to partners it would take years to cultivate without it. In just six months, our working groups have already developed initiatives, collaborations and actions that will create measurable improvements in honey-bee health."

The Collaboration Consultant: Richard J. Crespin of CollaborateUp

"The coalition’s launch culminates months of work. We all came together last year with more than 100 other people who have the most at stake in honey-bee health. We came from across the food chain, representing every step from seed to mouth. We agreed on a single, if complicated, goal: restore bee health and protect the future of honey bees and the food supply, while benefiting other native and managed pollinators. Today, the HBHC is a very big tent working across the food chain to provide a North American clearinghouse for finding and scaling existing solutions and investing in new innovations. While we were launching during Pollinator Week, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum and formed a federal task force to improve pollinator health, and we are actively engaging with these and other initiatives."

All of us

Leadership on this issue will take science-based research and innovation in four major areas: nutrition and forage, hive management, crop-pest management and cross-industry collaboration. Bees, like humans, need a robust and varied diet, so we are working to improve access to forage areas and to create new innovations in bee nutrition. The Varroa destructor mite has become one of the biggest challenges to healthy hive management to emerge in our lifetimes, and we will invest in transferring technology, educating beekeepers and new research to address this and other hive management challenges.

Feeding an ever-hungrier planet requires a variety of pest-control products and practices. While much already has been done to reduce and improve pesticide use and application, more can still be done to improve best management practices, to help ensure healthy bee and other pollinator populations. Last, we need better collaboration among all of us who have a major stake in the role of bees in production agriculture, and the HBHC will provide that structure.

The coalition is already a big tent, but we want it to grow even bigger. We will work with governments at all levels, conservation and environmental groups, and other industry players. And we want to work with you. Wherever you are in the food chain, we need your help. Please join the HBHC. Together we can make sure we promote more than hope, actually restoring the thriving population of honey bees that is so vital to a thriving food supply and a thriving agricultural economy.

Top image by Ricks via de.wikipedia.