As I speak to agricultural colleagues across the country, I can honestly say that it has been truly gratifying to observe how so many people with little direct connection to beekeeping are aware of the importance of pollinators to our food and our society. Along with this increased attention, more people are also aware that beekeepers are facing numerous challenges to keep our nation’s hives healthy. The challenges they face are real and they’re difficult, but if our collaborative efforts are directed toward meaningful action there is reason to be optimistic about our future. 

One reason for optimism is the president’s recent Pollinator Task Force report, which calls for a more comprehensive approach to restoring bee health. Most bee experts know there are many factors affecting bee colonies and logic dictates that multiple solutions will be needed.  The President’s plan looks at two factors that have seen too little attention — increased research investment to decrease colony losses and an expansion in forage acreage to increase a bee’s dietary options. Both of these are legitimate targets of opportunity that can produce sustainable benefits.  

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Another reason for optimism comes from the growing collaboration among many diverse stakeholders to improve honey bee health. The president’s report also supports development of voluntary State Managed Pollinator Protection Plans (MP3s). State departments of agriculture are leading the development plans through collaboration among pollinator stakeholders including farmers, beekeepers, crop production services, and others.  MP3s show that collaboration at the local level provides real solutions which protect the health of our pollinators without one-size-fits-all federal regulatory requirements, while also advancing agriculture and conserving our precious natural resources. In another collaborative rally for improving honey bee health, I recently attended a 2-day workshop focusing on the “Healthy Hives 2020” initiative hosted at the Bayer CropScience Bee Care Center, with the goal of finding tangible solutions to colony health within the next 5 years. The participants included a diverse group of stakeholders, all of whom worked together toward finding the most impactful areas of research on improving the health of bees. While this process is in its early stages, there’s no doubt in my mind that it can lead to meaningful research and ultimately, real solutions.  

There is no silver bullet to improve pollinator health — despite calls by those who mistakenly point to pesticides as the sole threat to bee health. Nutrition, parasites and disease, genetic diversity, and the need for further collaboration between farmers and beekeepers all contribute to the health of these critical insects. There will be multiple solutions to address the complexities. We can all do better together, and MP3s are already a proven formula in a number of states. 

The challenges facing bees are not new. What has changed is the increasing reliance on commercial beekeepers to help meet agriculture’s rising demand for pollination services.  Because of this, it is critical to balance bee health with food production.  That is why it is so important that we continue to collaborate and work together to ensure that our efforts will be effective and sustainable for the generations to come. Have questions about pollinators in your state? Reach out to the chief collaborators in agriculture in your state: the state department of agriculture.

Glenn is CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.