HARRISBURG, Pa. — Standing in front of one of the more popular exhibits at the Pennsylvania Farm Show — an educational display on the importance of bees to society — state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding helped unveil a new report intended to support healthy pollinator populations in the face of challenges that have decimated some species.
The Pennsylvania Pollinator Protection Plan is the product of a collaborative effort by state officials, researchers, farmers, beekeepers and the public and according to Redding, further collaboration will be needed to reverse declining populations.
“Pollinators are absolutely essential to agricultural production,” said Redding. “When three-quarters of all food crops benefit from insect pollination, but we’re seeing mortality rates of about 40 percent per year, you know we have a problem and it’s one we must address. This report is the product of tremendous input from stakeholders and concerned citizens. It gives us sound recommendations to begin rebuilding our pollinator populations, but that’s going to take the collective work of all of us and multiple sectors of our economy — from farmers and developers to transportation planners, homeowners and beekeepers.”
In September, the department and Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research opened a public comment period for input on the first four chapters of the report, which reflected the input of 36 individuals representing 28 state and national organizations and stakeholder groups.
Subsequent input formed the basis for the report’s fifth chapter, which provides recommendations for research, policy, communication and collaboration among stakeholders and metrics against which the plan’s effectiveness can be measured. The first four chapters provide an introduction and overview of the problem, as well as best practices to improve forage and habitat conditions, pesticide use and management decisions by beekeepers.
Secretary Redding was joined by department Deputy Secretary Fred Strathmeyer; Dr. Christina Grozinger and colleagues from the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State; Stephen Repasky, a second-generation beekeeper from Pittsburgh and president of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association; Brian Campbell of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association; and others concerned about pollinator populations and health.
Dr. Grozinger noted the plan is a living document and will be update annually, as needed. Repasky emphasized that beekeepers recognize the plan matters and encourages continued emphasis on practicality in future years.
Campbell talked about the importance of pollinators to agricultural production. Pollinators help to increase production on the parts of a plant that are edible and can increase seed production. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State determined that Pennsylvania growers gain more than $250 million in fruit and vegetable production due to increased yield as a result of pollination from insects and an additional $9 million in value from crops where pollination produces seeds.
The Pollinator Protection Plan cites research showing that approximately one-third of all studied insect species are struggling with population declines, including pollinators. For example, the number of managed honey bee colonies have declined more than 60 percent over the past 70 years and some beekeepers report overwintering losses of up to 90 percent of their population in recent years.
These declines have been attributed to the loss, degradation and fragmentation of pollinator habitats, pesticide use and the introduction of new pests and pathogens. These challenges, along with continued human population growth and development and climate change, are expected to continue eroding pollinator populations absent meaningful changes.
The Pennsylvania Pollinator Protection Plan is in response to President Obama’s 2014 memorandum calling on federal agencies to increase and coordinate efforts to improve bee and pollinator health by developing an integrated strategy.
The US Environmental Protection Agency was directed to work with state agencies to develop state pollinator protection plans to help mitigate the risk of pesticides to bees and other pollinators. One of the main goals of pollinator protection plans is to reduce pesticide exposure to pollinators through improved communication, coordination and the use of best management practices by pesticide applicators, beekeepers, growers, landowners and others. Pennsylvania’s Pollinator Protection Plan addresses these and other issues.
Learn more about the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s work to support the agriculture industry at agriculture.pa.gov.
— Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture