USDA Disaster Assistance to Help Thousands of Honeybee, Livestock and Farm-Raised Fish Producers

The USDA announced that nearly 2,500 applicants will receive disaster assistance through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) for losses suffered from October 1, 2011, through September  30, 2013.

The program, re-authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides disaster relief to livestock, honeybee, and farm-raised fish producers not covered by other agricultural disaster assistance programs. Eligible losses may include excessive heat or winds, flooding, blizzards, hail, wildfires, lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, and diseases, or in the case of honeybees, losses due to colony collapse disorder. Beekeepers, most of whom suffered honeybee colony losses, represent more than half of ELAP recipients.

“As promised, we’re making sure that thousands of producers who suffered through two and a half difficult years without Farm Bill assistance, are getting some relief,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Once the Farm Bill was restored, not only did we implement the disaster assistance programs in record time, we’re issuing payments less than three months after the enrollment deadline. The funds will hopefully help producers with some of the financial losses they sustained during that time.”

The Farm Bill caps ELAP disaster funding at $20 million per federal fiscal year. To accommodate the number of requests, which exceeded funds available for each of the affected years, payments will be reduced to ensure that all eligible applicants receive a prorated share of assistance.

ELAP was made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit  www.usda.gov/farmbill.

To learn more about USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) disaster assistance programs, visit the FSA factsheet page at  www.fsa.usda.gov/factsheets or contact your local FSA office at http://go.usa.gov/pYV3.

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USDA to provide $4 million for honey bee habitat

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees.

“The future of America’s food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations,” Vilsack said. “Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area.”

An estimated $15 billion worth of crops is pollinated by honey bees, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. This announcement renews and expands a successful $3 million pilot investment that was announced earlier this year and continues to have high levels of interest.

From June to September, the Midwest is home to more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. 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 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 rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, and providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators.

This year, several NRCS state offices are setting aside additional funds for similar efforts, including California – where more than half of all managed honey bees in the U.S. help pollinate almond groves and other agricultural lands – as well as Ohio and Florida.

 

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Pollinator Survey Shows Better Results but Significant Losses, Plus USDA Fall Summit on Bee Nutrition and Forage

While an annual pollinator survey of beekeepers, released yesterday, shows fewer U.S. colony losses over the winter of 2013-2014 than in recent years, beekeepers say losses remain higher than a sustainable level. According to the survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Bee Informed Partnership, the total loss (death) of managed honey bee colonies from all causes was 23.2 percent nationwide, well above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers accept as economically sustainable. Nevertheless, the losses were an improvement over the national 30.5 percent loss, and the California 28.6 percent loss, both for the winter of 2012-2013, and over the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent.

More than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as bees, to reproduce, meaning pollinators help produce one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.

“Pollinators, such as bees, birds and other insects are essential partners for farmers and ranchers and help produce much of our food supply. Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While we’re glad to see improvement this year, losses are still too high and there is still much more work to be done to stabilize bee populations.”

“Honeybees pollinate more than 130 California crops, including almonds, California’s largest agricultural export. More than 780,000 acres of almonds grow in California, and for pollination, they need an estimated 1.6 million hives, more than 60 percent of the nation’s total,” according to Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee.

There is no way to tell why the bees did better this year, according to both Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland assistant professor and director of the Bee Informed Partnership, and Jeff Pettis, research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory.

Although the pollinator survey shows improvement, losses remain above the level that beekeepers consider to be economically sustainable. This year, almost two-thirds of the beekeepers responding reported losses greater than the 18.9 percent threshold.

“Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become, with factors such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies,” said Jeff Pettis.

The winter losses survey covers the period from October 2013 through April 2014. About 7,200 beekeepers responded to the voluntary survey.

A complete analysis of the bee survey data will be published later this year. The summary of the analysis is at http://beeinformed.org/results-categories/winter-loss-2013-2014/.

***

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced a summit in Washington D.C. on October 20-21, 2014 aimed at addressing the nutrition and forage needs of pollinators. Attendees will discuss the most recent research related to pollinator loss and work to identify solutions.

***

Additionally, in March of 2014, Secretary Vilsack created a Pollinator Working Group, under the leadership of Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, to better coordinate efforts, leverage resources, and increase focus on pollinator issues across USDA agencies.

USDA personnel from ten Department agencies (Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Services Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Economic Research Service, Forest Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, Risk Management Agency and Rural Development) meet regularly to coordinate and evaluate efforts as USDA strives toward improving pollinator health and ensuring our pollinators continuing contributions to our nation’s environment and food security.

Photo credit: UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology

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Program Looks to Give Bees a Leg Up

Source: John Schwartz; New York Times 

Here in California’s Central Valley, researchers are trying to find assortments of bee-friendly plants that local farmers and ranchers can easily grow, whether in unusable corners and borders of their land or on acreage set aside with government support.

Bees could certainly use the assist. Since 2006, the commercial beekeepers who raise honeybees and transport them across the country to pollinate crops have reported losing a third of their colonies each year, on average.

Native species of bees, too, have been in decline. That is taking a toll on crops that rely on bees for pollination, including many nuts and fruits. The Department of Agriculture says that one of every three bites that Americans take is affected, directly or indirectly, by bees. They cause an estimated $15 billion increase in agricultural crop value each year.

The causes of the decline, known as colony collapse disorder, are still being studied. But they appear to be a combination of factors that include parasites, infection and insecticides. Underlying all of these problems is the loss of uncultivated fields with their broad assortment of pollen-rich plants that sustain bees. That land has been developed commercially or converted to farming corn, soybeans and other crops.

The new program will encourage farmers and ranchers to grow alfalfa, clover and other crops favored by bees and which serve a second purpose of being forage for livestock. Other proposed changes in practices include fencing property for managing grazing pastures in rotation so that they can replenish, leaving living plants for the bees.

Jeffery S. Pettis, who leads bee research at the federal Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., said the effort to get farmers to plant more crops with pollinators like bees and butterflies in mind was intended to help the creatures weather the challenges of pathogens, parasites and pesticides. “If they have a good nutritional foundation, they can survive some of the things they are faced with,” Dr. Pettis said.

The federal agency that focuses heavily on these issues, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, began in the 1930s as a government effort to help farmers hold on to soil and prevent dust bowls. The 2008 farm bill called for the service to include fostering pollinator health in its efforts in all 50 states.

That, in turn, has led to about 43 million acres of land across the country incorporating conservation features that support pollinator health. From 2009 to 2012, the bill’s environmental quality incentive program spread around $630 million.

In the Central Valley, the research to support that work is done on 106 acres of prime farmland at a Department of Agriculture plant materials center. The results are beautiful: More than 2,200 feet of hedges and fields of blended crops present a feast for the eyes — and for bees — beginning in early spring. On a recent viewing, flowers dotted the landscape with color. The bright orange flowers of California poppies opened near rich purple lupines. Last year, an entomologist found about 50 species of bees and 1,500 other beneficial insects, birds and creatures of all sorts in the hedgerows.

Jessa Cruz, a senior pollinator conservation specialist with the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving pollinator health that is collaborating with the center, said drought-resistant plants that are bee friendly are increasingly important in arid California.

“It’s important to be able to tell farmers, ‘You’re not going to have to use your precious water to irrigate your hedgerows,’ ” Ms. Cruz said.

The use of hedgerows and cover crops is on display at nearby Vino Farms, whose grapes are bought by 180 wineries. Growing among the vines are peas and beans, aromatic sage, golden currant, wild rose and even daikon radish.

Chris Storm, the director of viticulture for the company, said that even though grapes are self-fertilizing and do not need bees in the way that the nearby almond orchards do, “We’re doing it for everybody else,” providing a habitat for bees pollinating other crops nearby.

Vino Farms receives other benefits from the plantings, which help reduce the use of pesticides by supporting beneficial creatures like the tiny wasps and green lacewings that kill pests. Mr. Storm has taken out rows of vines for some hedgerows, and has flowering plants growing at the base of vines.

His company’s efforts also allow it to assert that it grows grapes sustainably. The certified sustainable production, he said, can bring a 10 percent increase in price from winemakers looking for a green edge. That translates to anything from $250 to $500 more per ton.

“It doesn’t yet pay for itself,” he said, though he clearly expects it to. It also helps that Mr. Storm is as adept at raising money from government conservation programs as he is at raising grapes and pollinating plants. He is constantly on the lookout for federal and state programs that will help pay for new techniques.

A mix of plants that works beautifully in California’s Central Valley will not necessarily be much good in the Upper Midwest, said Laurie Davies Adams, the executive director of the Pollinator Partnership, which promotes the health of bees, butterflies and other plant helpers.

“When I talk about hedgerows to guys in Iowa, they just kind of glaze over,” Ms. Adams said. The big bushes would interfere with the giant equipment those farmers use, she said, but they might be persuaded to set aside small plots of land for pollen-rich plants, which can help accomplish the same conservation goals.

“This is not one size fits all,” she said. “This is one ethic fits all.”

A major commercial beekeeper, John Miller, said that the multimillion-dollar pollinator program for the Upper Midwest would not work miracles. Spreading the money across five states over several years, he said, doing a little “shirttail math,” means that “you’ve got about a Dixie cup worth of seeds going into a field” in any one season.

He added, however, that the program is good news because it means “the pendulum, perhaps, is beginning to swing back” to paying attention to the role of bees in the food supply.

Surging corn prices have led farmers to grow on every available acre, which has been bad for bee habitats. A. Gary Shilling, an economic consultant, asset manager and avid beekeeper in New Jersey, said corn prices had been coming down again, and that should affect the number of acres they plant. “There will be less incentive to plant fence-row to fence-row,” he said. So pollinator plantings could make a comeback, especially if social pressure encourages farmers to support bees.

“This is a business,” Mr. Shilling said. “Are these guys going to go out of their way for something that’s going to hurt their business, affect their bottom line? Not unless they think they’ll catch some flak if they won’t.”

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