Work Continues on Capitol Hill for Honey Bee Habitat

Posted: 5/31/2018

By Dale Thorenson

The U.S. Canola Association’s (USCA’s) work continues with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) along with the National Sunflower Association (NSA), American Honey Producers Association (AHPA) and American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) --to improve honey bee and pollinator habitat on U.S. farms.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (ND) contacted the USDA in January, encouraging the creation of a conservation practice to improve honey bee and pollinator habitat through more diverse crop rotations on farms. In response, NRCS developed a draft Conservation Stewardship Program enhancement entitled “Improved Crop Rotation to Provide Further Benefits to Pollinators” that would provide incentives to producers to include canola or sunflowers in crop rotations beginning in fiscal year 2019. 

In April, USCA, NSA, AHPA and ABF wrote the NRCS encouraging three revisions and additions to the draft enhancement: 1) expanding the practice to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program; 2) allowing applications of insecticides during bloom using Best Management Practices if economic thresholds are reached; and 3) creating a registry of fields using this program to notify beekeepers of their existence. These amendments will make the program palatable for more farmers and maximize their benefits.

Lack of suitable habitat to provide forage and nutrition has been identified as a major contributing factor in the decline in both honey bee and wild pollinator health and numbers. The loss of habitat is due to declining wild spaces and increased agricultural monocultures. Increasing the acreage of cropland planted annually to canola or sunflowers would have an immediate positive impact on honey bee and wild pollinator health.

Canola provides ideal habitat and forage for honey bees and other pollinators. Canola flowers produce abundant nectar, which has a good sugar profile for honey production. Canola pollen offers pollinators a good nutritional balance of amino acids and protein, plus a plentiful source.  Canola allows pollinators to feed efficiently without covering large distances. Canola fields also bloom for relatively long periods, so some fields can provide bees and pollinators with a good source of nectar for up to a month.

Sunflowers can also provide late-season supplemental habitat and forage for pollinators. Sunflowers bloom in late summer, providing habitat and forage at a time when fewer plants are blossoming.

Dale Thorenson is assistant director of the U.S. Canola Association in Washington, D.C.

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