Vanishing Honeybees Could Leave Crops in the Dust (Sen. John Thune)

A little known fact is that nearly one third of the total U.S. diet depends on the pollination honeybees provide for a wide variety of crops. Honeybees may be small in stature, but as the contributors of $15 billion in pollination value alone to our domestic agriculture industry each year, their value to our food supply is anything but small.

While we probably still wince at the thought of a painful bee sting from our childhood, there might soon be a day when we wish we could still hear those fuzzy insects buzzing around nearby.

A biological mystery -- the Colony Collapse Disorder -- is wiping out 40 to 60 percent of hives in South Dakota and several other states across the country, with certain states experiencing as high as a 90-percent loss of hives. Scientists are conducting extensive research to determine the origins of this disorder, but its cause and cure remain a mystery.

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I recently had the opportunity to hear from and question Mark Brady, the President of the American Honey Producers Association, during a committee hearing. Mr. Brady stressed the seriousness of the Colony Collapse Disorder, and the need for Congress to support scientific research into its causes and provide assistance to the beekeepers who are suffering from serious hive losses.

Mr. Brady also discussed the need to implement an insurance program that would protect honey producers from the loss or destruction of bee colonies.

This year, I’ve cosigned two letters to the USDA concerning the Colony Collapse Disorder. I have asked the USDA to provide the steps they are taking to combat this problem, as well as to finally implement the honey insurance pilot program, which Congress authorized more than five years ago.

Our country can’t afford to lose the honeybee. I’ll continue to work in Congress to make sure steps are being taken to stop this disorder and support our nation’s beekeepers as they deal with this rapidly spreading problem.