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Honey bee losses are unsustainable, USDA survey finds

WASHINGTON – More than three quarters of flowering plants require pollinators to reproduce. According to USDA, that means pollinators help produce one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.

Beekeepers say losing just under 19 percent of colonies around the country each year is economically sustainable, but total losses this past winter were more than 23 percent nationwide.

That’s according to an annual USDA survey out May 15. The figure is an improvement over the number for the previous winter at more than 30 percent, and above the eight year average at over 29 percent. The survey’s authors note there’s no way to tell exactly why bees survived in greater numbers last winter.

Funding to support pollinators through floral forage habitats eluded Iowa earlier this year when USDA made $3 million available to 5 other states. However, President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget does include $71 million for USDA to dispense on pollinator health as a multi-agency effort.

Also elusive is the precise reason bees are dying off. In a report released April 9 titled Bee Health: Background and Issues for Congress, the Congressional Research Service noted that “the precise reasons for bee colony losses are not yet known. Reasons cited for bee declines include a wide range of possible factors thought to be affecting pollinator species. These include bee pests and disease, diet and nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and other environmental stressors, agricultural pesticides, and beekeeping management issues, as well as the possibility that bees are being affected by cumulative, multiple exposures and/or the interactive effects of several of these factors.”