I was sort of surprised at the lack of coverage the mainstream media gave to the festivities in Washington last week during National Pollinator Week. What with the continuous, nearly daily coverage newspapers, magazines and blogs give to Colony Collapse Disorder, the loss of pollinators, and the threat of increasing food prices ... youd think the media would be interested ... but, maybe not.
One reason for what appears to be apathy is that it wasnt very well publicized ... you had to want to know it was going on to know it went on and what happened. I wanted to know and still had trouble finding out the who, what, where, and when, and then only because a Washington insider asked someone at Pollinator Protection what was going on and they told him, and he told me.
Of course a good investigative reporter would have done the digging and found out ... but if you have to dig to find something it must be pretty well hidden, dont you think? Those speaking knew, of course. At least they showed up on time.
What went on? The House Committee On Agriculture, Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture held a hearing on Pollinator Health and Colony Collapse Disorder. Basically, this same Subcommittee held a hearing a few months ago and gave USDA, in no uncertain terms, orders to get this thing fixed. Last week was a follow up and they wanted to see what has happened since they gave that directive. Their reaction seemed mixed.
Speakers included Dr. Edward Knipling, USDA ARS, Dr. Keith Delaplane, Univ. GA, Maryann Frazier, Penn State, Steve Godlin, Commercial beekeepers from Visalia, CA, Dave Mendes, Commercial Beekeeper from FL and VP American Beekeeping Federation, Robert Edwards, Cuke grower from NC, and the CEO of one of the largest wild blueberry operations in Maine.
These folks discussed the crisis beekeepers are facing, the fact that CCD in now on record as causing a reduced production of food, and increased food prices, and that pesticides, like it or not, are playing a really, really big role in whats going on.
But first, the funding. Without this, all the rest doesnt matter.
Speaking, and defending, was Dr. Edward Knipling, the Administrator of the Ag Research Service (ARS), the folks who find answers when Congress says to find answers, and money to find those answers.
He gave a brief overview of the history of CCD, the losses over the last two years, and then commented that even though the cost of almond pollination has gone up dramatically due to CCD losses, it was fortunate that cost increases for other crops during off-peak pollination periods have not been as dramatic.
He went on to state the obvious, that they still dont know what causes CCD, but they have a better understanding of the problem and its contributing factors, ...the hypothesis (is) that CCD is caused by an interaction of multiple factors stressing the colony rather than by an one single cause.
He mentioned Nosema ceranae as being not commonly found in beehives, and that research has yet to determine whether pesticides have an association with CCD, and that claims by beekeepers that they do need to be confirmed. He also said that supplemental diets improve colony strength in colonies infested with varroa mites.
Then he came to the money part. Eighty percent of the ARS bee research budget of $7.7 million is oriented toward CCD research. This is Bee Lab money ... buildings, people, equipment. Its been that way for years. Last year ARS gave an additional $200,000 for genetic work associated with CCD, and beginning this year they are initiating their Honey Bee Health program ... A 5-year project looking at migratory beekeeping, nutrition, resistant lines of bees, and controlling honey bee pests. Base funding is $670,000 for the first year ... funding for subsequent years will be based upon available appropriations. Thats a definite maybe, isnt it?
The new budget proposal also calls for an additional $780,000, plus some consolidation activity for even more money. These funds arent there yet. They have funded, through a extramural funding agency called CSREES (Coop. State Research Education and Extension) a $4.1 million, 4 year grant to be awarded in July. Thats $1.025 million/year (more on this grant later). CSREES funding for CCD and bee health research rose from $538,000 in 2006 to over $1,000,000 in 2007 and will exceed $2.5 million in 2008, plus there is a proposal for the 2009 budget for an additional $1.743 million.
Moreover, the new farm bill calls for $30 million in mandatory funding for specialty crop research, of which CCD work will get some because of the need of honey bee pollination for many of these specialty crops.
But wait, theres more. Subject to future appropriations, the new farm bill also authorizes up to $20 million PER YEAR for 2008 2012 for honey bee and other pollinator research, extension and surveillance. Plus, APHIS (Animal, Plant, Health Inspections Service) is initiating a nationwide honey bee health and pest survey to obtain data and determine trends on CCD, and the AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) is providing some user fee pesticide testing service.
So, money is beginning to flow for this problem. A fair amount of money. Over a long, long time however.
That $4.1 million CSREES grant mentioned above was described by Dr. Keith Delaplane, Univ. GA, Athens, who leads a team of 20 or so scientists to accomplish the following:
They also have initiatives for delivering improved stock to bee breeders and for training them in classical selection techniques. They also plan on creating new literature on Best Management Practices and delivering these discoveries on web-based structures.
These are lofty goals, for sure, and all are possible, certainly. But they will encounter equally lofty resistance by some, and even loftier stubbornness by others. It remains to be seen if the beekeeping industry can be both led to water, and made to drink. There is a history in that industry of remaining distant to even the best information.
But with the promised funding proposed by USDA ARS chiefs, and that promised funding headed toward an army of experts, you could imagine CCD being only a bad memory in 5 years or less, dont you think? So there you have it ... funds, and what the funds will do. Next time well listen to whats going on in the real world of CCD, and get outside the inner belt and down from the Ivory Tower.
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