New program to promote honey bee health in county

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide close to $3 million in technical and financial assistance in parts of five midwestern states to help improve the health of bees, which play an important role in crop production.

The funding is a focused investment to improve pollinator health and will be targeted in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, including Sheboygan County.

Beekeepers in Wisconsin are losing unprecedented numbers of honey bee hives each year, Michael Patin District Conserva- tionist Michael said. Honey bee pollination is estimated to support more than $15 billion worth of agricultural production, and more than 130 fruits and vegetables rely on bee pollination. Not only do bees pollinate the crops that produce our food supply, but they are an important part of the rural ecosystem.

Funding will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment.

Recent studies have shown that beekeepers are losing approximately 30 percent of their honey bee colonies each year, up from historical norms of ten to fifteen percent overwintering losses experienced prior to 2006.

NRCS will help landowners implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. For example, appropriate cover crops and pasture management can reduce erosion, increase the health of the soil, inhibit invasive species, and provide quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife. More than half of Wisconsin counties are eligible for this year’s sign-up.

Midwestern states were chosen because from June to September the region is the resting ground for over 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.

Applications are due March 21, 2014. For information on EQIP, see WI NRCS website. Interested landowners can contact the Sheboygan Falls field office at: 920- 467-9917 ext. 3 to sign up.

Since 2006, when heightened numbers of honey bee colony losses were first reported, significant progress has been made in the understanding of the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees. The USDA is actively pursuing solutions to the multiple problems affecting honey bee health.

For more information on this program, visit a local USDA service center or the NRCS website.

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