The Obama administration’s Department of Agriculture is trying to breed a new kind of bee that is resistant to mites that are killing off the U.S. bee population, and is looking for millions of dollars in new money to help the project.
The USDA said this week that its Agricultural Research Service has started the program, which involves breeding bees that have a natural tendency to resist the “varroa destructor” mite. The USDA says the varroa mite is a “modern honeybee plague” that threatens U.S. agricultural production by killing bees that pollinate U.S. crops.
Government researchers are looking for bees that tend to clean up their hives more effectively and sweep out infestations of the mite.
“The idea is to breed bees specifically to intensify such traits,” USDA explained.
But the department said it is also looking for more money for the effort. On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Obama administration’s proposed budget for USDA in 2015 seeks a total of $71 million to support the recovery of the honey bee.
He said honeybee colonies saw a 23.2 percent loss over the last winter — down from 30.5 percent last year, but still too high. The USDA says bees are the main method of pollination for about 90 different agricultural crops.
“There is still more work to be done to stabilize honey bee populations and ensure the health of pollinator populations and the health of the American population — nearly one third of our diet, including many berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables, comes from plants pollinated by honey bees and other pollinators,” Vilsack said.
Next week, a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will meet to consider the agriculture appropriations bill, which could decide the fate of the administration’s request.
USDA has also set up a “bee cam” that broadcasts honey bee hive activity at USDA’s 40,000 hives of honey bees, which are kept on the roof of USDA’s headquarters in Washington.