A long-held public perception has been rapidly changing in recent months: bees aren’t annoying insects that can sting, but a vital component to food production. In fact, one-third of global food production relies on pollinators to some degree, according to the Honey Bee Health Coalition.
Recent declines in honey bee pollinator populations have experts concerned that this crucial player in our food system may be in danger, thus endangering the vitality of sustainable food production. To paint a picture of this dramatic decline, between 2006-2015, U.S. overwintering losses for managed honey bees ranged from approximately 23-36 percent, compared to a historical rate of overwintering losses of 10-15 percent.
While there is no silver-bullet solution in this complex issue, farmers, ranchers and others in agriculture are collaborating to create healthy habitats for honey bees, as well as working with the USDA to take steps to protect them.
Farmers like Jay Hill, vegetable, nut and beef producer, in New Mexico works with bees directly to pollinate seed crops on his farm – they play a very important role in seed crop pollination. From spring through late summer, Jay works with about 600 hives of bees. In addition to working with bees for seed crop pollination, Jay also holds bee hives on the farm all year round (winter), for beekeepers in colder climates, to protect and keep the bees “warm”. And to bring some New Mexico flavor to his local community, Jay is maximizing pollinators in a sustainable way by selling by-products from bees to local stores.
Impacts on bee health have been linked to a variety of factors, including activities associated with both beekeeping and crop production. These range from pests & disease and lack of forage & nutrition to incidental pesticide exposure and lack of genetic diversity in breeding.
One of the ways that Jay protects the honey bees is by being mindful of how he uses pesticides in controlling insects. He recognizes the importance of these pollinators, so if there are bees close to somewhere where he needs to spray, he doesn’t spray at that time or he has someone come and remove the bees.
Additionally, Jay also avoids spraying pesticides in fields where there are more beneficial insects than non-beneficial insects. He recently said in an interview with the Las Cruces Sun-News, “As far as the way we produce what we produce, we have to be mindful that without bees, we don’t have seed for next year’s crop and that’s why we use professional beekeepers.”