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USDA Awards Grant to Pennsylvania State University to Support Honey Bee Health Research

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2011 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced a grant to Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and several collaborators to develop a nationwide network to monitor and maintain honey bee health.

“Pollinators are valued at more than $18 billion annually in the United States, but in 2009 and 2010, 25 percent of commercial bee keepers lost more than 50 percent of their operations for unknown reasons,” said Roger Beachy, NIFA director. “The project being announced today will examine the issues concerning the health of the pollinators of U.S. crops and establish and deliver best practice strategies directly to producers who need this information the most.”

The overall goal of the $5 million, five-year project is to focus on extension efforts while expanding upon previous USDA-funded research.  The scientists will use an epidemiological approach to determine which management practices most successfully reduce honey bee mortality and increase profitability for bee keepers. Project leader Dennis vanEngelsdorp from PSU and his multistate team hope that widespread adoption of best management practices can reduce national losses in honey bee populations by 50 percent over the next five years.

The team will conduct surveys of colony mortality as well as beekeeper management strategies, costs, and outputs. The project will help to fill in crucial knowledge gaps about the types and severities of stressors that honey bee colonies face and which pose the greatest threat to the survival of the bees. These stressors include pesticide exposure, parasites, pathogens and other factors.  Results from the first producer survey are expected in the coming week. The investigators will then use this information to populate a comprehensive, accurate and timely Honey Bee Health Database, promoting best management practices based on science-based evidence. An interactive web-based interface will actively engage producers through a reporting system and an emerging issues alert system.

Previous projects have studied colony collapse disorder and pollinator health issues at critical moments when bee keepers were observing their colonies rapidly decline. The team is partnering with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to build upon work conducted in recent years.

In addition to PSU, the project includes extension educators and specialists from the University of California, the University of Illinois, the University of Georgia, the University of Tennessee, the University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, Appalachian State University, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the Florida Department of Agriculture, NASA, and USDA’s ARS and APHIS.

The grant was awarded through USDA’s highly competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and administered through NIFA. AFRI’s global food security challenge area focuses on two intertwined issues: food availability and food accessibility. Adequate food availability implies that the population has a reliable source of food from domestic or international production. For adequate food accessibility, the population must have sufficient resources to purchase food for a nutritious diet. The long-term goal of this program is to increase global food availability through increased and sustainable food production with reduced losses.

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is available at www.nifa.usda.gov.

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