By KRAIG YOUNTS
Farm World Intern – Indiana
SAN FRANCISCO — Bees have been dying at an alarming rate in recent years. Their numbers have fallen when the world needs its champion pollinator the most.
The Pollinator Partnership and its new president and CEO, Val Dolcini, want to curb this trend. Dolcini took over the Pollinator Partnership on June 1 after exiting his old post as administrator of the USDA Farm Service Agency.
“My vision for the Pollinator Partnership is to build a strong and stable foundation for continued success,” Dolcini told Farm World.
“The Pollinator Partnership does important work for pollinators across north America, and this must continue.
“The Pollinator Partnership’s work dovetailed nicely with the work I was doing at USDA,” Dolcini said. “There I led the Farm Service Agency, and we created many pro-pollinator policies and practices. The Pollinator Partnership will allow me to continue this work.”
Honeybee hives in the U.S. have declined from 6 million in the 1940s to roughly 2.5 million today, according to the USDA. Dolcini attributes these deaths to an array of factors.
“Pollinators, native and non-native, face many challenges, but they can best be summarized by the four P’s,” Dolcini said. “Overuse or misuse of pesticides; loss of pasture (habitat); pathogens; and parasites (like the varroa mite).
“Raising awareness about the four P’s and developing better science to address them will be our challenge and the challenge of citizens interested in helping to find solutions.”
“Bee deaths have been an issue since humans began applying toxic materials to plant bloom to control pests of various types,” Eric Mussen, emeritus extension apiculturist at the University of California-Davis, told Farm World. “As human population grows, use of former foraging areas for housing, parking lots, highways, airports, et cetera, as well as expanding farmland to meet our increasing food needs took place, bees have been forced to forage more on plants that are treated with, or contaminated by drift from treatments with, various pesticides.”
Bees are crucial to sustaining the world’s supply of fruits and vegetables.
“One out of every three bites of food we eat is brought to us by a pollinator,” Dolcini said. “About 75 percent of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization, and pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops.”
Without bees and pollinators, the world as we know it would come to a grinding halt. “It’s like the canary in a coal mine. If they disappear, so do we,” said film director Louie Schwartzberg during a 2011 TED talk.
Luckily, Dolcini believes that the bee population is rising. “While honeybee populations have declined, recently mortality rates have improved modestly,” he said.
On June 6, the fight for bees and pollinators brought national attention when Second Lady Karen Pence and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue unveiled a new beehive on the grounds of the Pence estate. The hive was received from Eco Honeybees of Falls Church, Va. It holds 20,000 bees, and that amount grows with time.
“All types of pollinators – such as bees, butterflies, birds and bats – are critical to providing our nation’s food, fiber, fuel and medicine,” Pence said. “However, our beekeepers have been losing colonies for many years. This presents a serious challenge to our ability to produce many of the agricultural products that we enjoy today.”
Dolcini’s appointment as head of the Pollinator Partnership ensures that bees and all pollinators have a voice and the opportunity to thrive. He has the determination and the knowledge to effectively execute the organization’s mission. He encourages citizens to do their part to bolster the pollinator cause.
“People can plant pollinator gardens; farmers can practice bee-friendly farming; and citizens can engage with their elected officials,” Dolcini said.