- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is poised to spend about $3 million of taxpayer dollars to improve farmlands to help feed honeybees in the Midwest, an initiative aimed at helping farmers and ranchers who depend on the insect to pollinate their plants.

The honeybee population has been declining for about a decade, leaving agricultural producers in the lurch, The Associated Press reported. Some beekeepers have resorted to bringing hives to the Midwest regions to let the insects gather nectar during them summer months, then carting them to California and other states a few weeks later so they can pollinate the likes of almonds, avocados and apples, AP said.

But winters and pesticides have hit hard, nonetheless, and colonies are continuing to collapse, AP reported.

The USDA thinks giving the bees more areas to store up food — and energy — for the winter will help with population levels. The new program — which gives daily farmers in certain states access to $3 million in federal funds to reseed lands with plants that appeal to the bees — will be a “real shot in the arm” for colony food supplies, said Jason Weller, the chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in the AP report.

The overall aim of the program is to give bees, as well as farmers’ animals, better quality food.

“It’s a win for the livestock guys and it’s a win for the managed honeybee population,” Mr. Weller said, in the AP report. “And it’s a win then for orchardists and other specialty crop producers across the nation because then you’re going to have a healthier, more robust bee population that then goes out and helps pollinate important crops.”

The USDA is focusing on five states: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. That’s where 65 percent of the 30,000 commercial bee keepers bring their hives for months out each year, AP said.