The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) has released the results of its first ever Honey Bee Colony Loss survey, which queried the nation’s honey beekeepers about the number of colonies, colonies lost, colonies added, and colonies affected by certain stressors and gleans state-level estimates on key honey bee health topics.
Survey results will help to provide a statistically strong baseline of information about the honey bee losses facing the country and will help USDA and other federal departments and agencies to guide honey bee management decisions going forward.
“Pollinators are essential to the production of food, and in the United States, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion of crops each year, ranging from almonds to zucchinis,” said Dr. Ann Bartuska, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. “This new data will add to USDA’s robust scientific body of knowledge on the inventory, movement and death loss of honeybees in the United States.”
NASS surveyed 3,300 beekeeping operations with five or more colonies on a quarterly basis and followed their operations throughout the year. A sample of 20,000 beekeepers with less than five colonies were also surveyed annually. The collected data covers the state in which colonies are located, movement of colonies between states, newly added or replaced colonies, number of colonies lost, colonies renovated, and presence of colony stressors and specific signs of illness.
According to results, the U.S saw an 8% decline in honey bee colones from January 1, 2015 to January 1, 2016, for operations with five or more colonies. Honey beekeepers with five or more colonies reported Varroa mites as the leading stressor affecting colonies, but also reported more colonies with symptoms of Colony Collapse Disorder lost in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same quarter in 2015.
The survey was developed as part of the “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” which was developed and released last summer under the leadership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the USDA with an intent to reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels, increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration, and restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.
A number of research activities within USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission area have also been initiated since the action plan was released, including grants to help fund research geared at pollinator health and the organization of a national bee genebank to help preserve genetic diversity of honey bees.