One-third of our food depends upon honeybee pollination

We would go hungry without our busy honeybees

By Kathy Dixon, Virginia Farm Bureau

One of every three bites of food we eat is available thanks to honeybees.

That’s because one-third of our food depends directly or indirectly upon honeybee pollination, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Honeybees pollinate 80 percent of U.S.-grown crops—products valued at more than $14 billion. Crops that benefit from honeybee pollination include fruits, nuts, vegetables, cotton and other small grains. They also include cover crops, which farmers plant between commercial crops to prevent nutrient runoff and soil erosion and boost soil nutrients.


Some farmers are also beekeepers, and others rent bee colonies for pollination on their farms.

It’s estimated that there are about 2.4 million honeybee colonies in the U.S. today. The American Beekeeping Federation estimates two-thirds of those travel the country pollinating crops or are part of commercial honey and beeswax operations.

‘One of every three bites of food we eat is available thanks to honeybees.’ (Click to Tweet)

In a single day, one honeybee makes 12 or more trips from its hive, visiting several thousand flowers at a time. On each trip, it confines its visit to one plant species, collecting one kind of pollen. This enables the colony to find and collect food with maximum efficiency, which makes honeybees the most valuable pollinators, according to the Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research & Extension Consortium.

State’s pollinator plan focused on reducing honeybee risk

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released its pollinator protection plan just as a task force for the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology published a commentary examining honeybee health stressors.

Virginia’s Voluntary Plan to Mitigate the Risk of Pesticides to Managed Pollinators addresses solutions to reduce the risk of pesticides to honeybees and other pollinators. The guidelines dovetail with the findings in the CAST commentary.

“Here in Virginia and across the nation, people are concerned about the loss of honeybees,” said VDACS Commissioner Sandy Adams. “And we have developed a plan that focuses on communication between pesticide applicators and beekeepers and the use of best management practices by farmers, beekeepers and pesticide applicators to protect our pollinators.”

bee hives

The CAST commentary, Why Does Honey Bee Health Matter?, examined stressors threatening colony health and offered ways bees could be protected.

The authors of the paper encourage increasing pollinator foraging opportunities and enriching the natural habitat. “Careful and appropriate pesticide use, conservation and sustainable agriculture practices will help ensure the availability of the pollinators needed to secure a stable food supply,” they wrote.

Honeybee insurance? You bet! Did you know that Farm Bureau members who raise bees can get covered under apiculture crop insurance from the American Farm Bureau Federation?

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Anyone can help protect pollinators

It’s not just farmers who are interested in protecting pollinators. And now anyone can help save Virginia’s honeybees with two new programs.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is encouraging Virginians to create a pollinator window box, and the Virginia Department of Transportation is offering a new “Protect Pollinators” license plate.

The plate features a hummingbird, butterflies and bees pollinating flowers. The fee to order is $25 in addition to the standard registration fee. The pollinator plates are revenue-sharing plates that contribute to VDOT’s new pollinator habitat program. The department has partnered with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy to create pollinator habitat along highway medians throughout the state and create pollinator gardens at rest stops.

More than agricultural crops depend on native pollinators; they are crucial for ecosystems to thrive. They pollinate wildflowers, which drop seeds that are eaten by birds and small animals, and these creatures are a source of food for larger wildlife.

State Apiarist Keith Tignor said Virginia is experiencing about a 30 percent loss of honeybee hives per year. “We are tackling the problem in a variety of ways. One way is to encourage people to plant pollinator gardens or pollinator window boxes, he said.”

bee with pollen
bee hive

USDA Conservation Reserve Program benefits bees

Since 1986, the Conservation Reserve Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency has provided millions of acres of vital habitat for honeybees and other pollinators. With abundant acres of legume-rich forage or diverse wildflower plantings, CRP lands offer hives a safe haven from the pressures of modern agriculture—supplying large-scale sources of pollen and nectar that keep bee colonies healthy, and generating millions of dollars worth of honey every year.