Pollinators in the Farm Bill

Using Farm Bill Programs for Pollinator Conservation guidelines

The Xerces Society worked with Senator Barbara Boxer to develop a letter that was sent to the Appropriations committee requesting that pollinator research funding, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, is allocated. Twenty Senators signed on to this letter.

Two bills were recently passed by Congress that included pollinator conservation as a priority in the 2008 Farm Bill: the Pollinator Habitat Protection Act (S.1496) and the Pollinator Protection (Research) Act (S. 1694).

The recent widespread loss of honey bee colonies from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has received a lot of media coverage. Major media outlets across the US have covered this story including the NY Times, the CBS Nightly News, and the Christian Science Monitor. At this time the cause of CCD remains a mystery. It may be one or more factors, such as parasitic mites, disease, pesticides or diet. No matter what the cause of these declines, many scientists feel that native pollinators – specifically, native bees – can be an insurance policy for honey bee scarcity.

The European honey bee is the most important single crop pollinator in the United States. However, with the decline in the number of managed honey bee colonies from diseases, parasitic mites, and Africanized bees – as well as from Colony Collapse Disorder – it is important to increase the use of native bees in our agricultural system.

Hundreds of species of native bees are available for crop pollination. Research from across the country demonstrates that a wide range of native bees help with crop pollination, in some cases providing all of the pollination required. These free, unmanaged bees provide a valuable service, estimated recently by scientists from the Xerces Society and Cornell University to be worth $3 billion annually in the U.S.

Pollinators and the US Senate
There are two bills in the US Senate that will provide help to pollinators. The first is Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) Pollinator Protection Act (there is no bill number yet) of 2007, which was introduced on June 26th, 2007. This exciting bill not only addresses Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees, but also the decline of native pollinators in North America. This bill will enhance funding for research on the parasites, pathogens, toxins, and other environmental factors that affect honey bees and native bees. It supports research into the biology of native bees and their role in crop pollination, diversifying the pollinators upon which agriculture relies.

The Pollinator Protection Research Act provides for:

  • $25.25 million to the Agriculture Research Service over five years for research, personnel, and facility improvements regarding honey bee and native bee biology, causes/solutions for CCD, and bee toxicology, pathology, and physiology.
  • $50 million to the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service over five years to fund research grants to investigate honey bee and native bee biology, immunology, ecology, genomics, bioinformatics, parasites, pathogens, sublethal effects of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, native bee crop pollination and habitat conservation, and effects of genetically modified crops.
  • $11.25 million to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service over five years to conduct a nationwide honey bee pest and pathogen surveillance program.
  • Annual reporting to the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate on the status and progress of bee research projects.

The Pollinator Protection Act of 2007 works in conjunction with the Pollinator Habitat Protection Act S.1496 introduced on May 24, 2007 by Senators Baucus and Chambliss. The Pollinator Habitat Protection Act addresses an important aspect of CCD and the decline of pollinators in general: the continued loss of pollinator habitat due to development.

This Pollinator Habitat Protection Act of 2007 utilizes existing Farm Bill conservation programs to strengthen pollinator habitat by including pollinators as a conservation target in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Sercurity Program, and the Conservation Reserve Program. It does not cost additional money, or create a new program. It simply requires existing conservation programs to acknowledge pollinator habitat as a conservation resource and rewards producers whose conservation practices are beneficial for pollinators.

The bill would create incentives for farmers to protect, restore and enhance pollinator habitat on and around farms and would encourage state-level Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to promote scientifically tested and approved pollinator-friendly practices for farmers participating in Farm Bill conservation programs.

More information on protecting native pollinators
Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is important for the reproduction of nearly 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants. This includes more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species, and one in three mouthfuls of the food that we eat. The United States alone grows more than one hundred crops that either require or benefit from pollinators.

Beyond agriculture, native pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of birds, and of mammals ranging from deer mice to grizzly bears.

Why are native bees so helpful? Collectively, native bees are more versatile than honey bees. Some species, such as mason bees, are active when conditions are too cold or wet for honey bees. Many species also are simply more efficient at moving pollen between flowers. Bumble bees and several other native species can buzz pollinate flowers – vibrating the flower to release pollen from deep inside the pollen-bearing anthers – which honey bees cannot do. Crops such as tomatoes, cranberries, and blueberries produce larger, more abundant fruit when buzz pollinated.