Honey Bees and Pollination

The value of insect pollination to U. S. Agricultural production is estimated at $16 billion annually; about 75% of the value is attributable to honey bees. Worldwide, the contribution of bees and other insects to global crop production for human food is valued at about $190 billion.

Bees are critically important in the environment, sustaining biodiversity by providing essential pollination for a wide range of crops and wild plants. They contribute to human wealth and wellbeing directly through the production of honey and other food and feed supplies such as: pollen, wax for food processing, propolis in food technology, and royal jelly as a dietary supplement and ingredient in food.

In view of the important ecological and economic value of bees, there is a need to monitor and maintain healthy bee stocks, not just locally or nationally, but globally.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates of overwinter bee colony losses have averaged more than 30% annually in recent years. (Since many beekeepers have been able to replace lost hives, overall honey bee colony numbers are stable.)  Some have unjustifiably singled out pesticides as the primary cause for the decline in bee health, focusing specifically on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.

According to a February 9, 2015 Congressional Research Service report entitled: Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides, “The precise reasons for honey bee loss are unknown.”  In fact, science suggests multiple factors for the decline in bee health including; parasites, diet and nutrition, lack of genetic diversity, habitat loss, beekeeping management practices, weather and viruses.  A 2013 joint USDA and U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report found the varroa mite as the “most detrimental pest of honeybees.”

The honey bees contribution to agricultural production:

Expressed somewhat differently, another widely cited estimate is that bee pollination of agricultural crops is said to account for about one-third of the U.S. diet, contributing to the production of a diverse range of high-value fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, forage crops, some field crops, and other specialty crops.  Both managed and wild bees are critical to plant pollination and are economically valuable to U.S. agricultural production.

A number of agricultural crops are almost totally (90%-100%) dependent on animal pollination, including apples, avocados, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, kiwi fruit, macadamia nuts, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, onions, legume seeds, pumpkins, squash, and sunflowers.

In addition to some of the aforementioned crops, these include alfalfa seeds, almonds, canola, chokecherries, grapefruit, pears, plums, prunes, soybeans (hybrid seed production), tomatoes, vegetable seeds, and watermelons.

In some cases honey bees and other pollinators can also be pests, infesting homes and threatening human health in certain situations. Pest management professionals (PMPs) are frequently contacted to manage such problems. While many PMPs do try to preserve honey bee colonies for beekeepers to remove, sometimes treating bees with a pesticide is unavoidable.

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