Supporting Honey Bee Health and The Monarch Butterfly

Supporting Honey Bee Health and The Monarch Butterfly

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New @MonsantoCo blog post on supporting honey #bee health and the #monarch butterfly -
Friday, June 19, 2015 - 3:25pm

CAMPAIGN: Honey Bee Health


Natural species and habitats have an inherent value all their own, separate from the benefits they provide the world’s human population. At Monsanto we understand and respect this. We also know that without a healthy natural environment, sustainable agriculture would not be possible. Productive farming depends on pollinators like the honey bee and on natural ecosystems that help maintain soil health and mitigate climate change.

Understanding Honey Bee Health
Without important pollinators like the honey bee, we would be unable to enjoy some of our favorite foods like fresh fruit and nuts, or our morning coffee. But a significant decline in the honey bee population in recent years is posing a threat to a nutritious, accessible food supply around the world. Pollinators affect one-third of the world’s crop production, increasing the output of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, according to a 2015 study co-authored by a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

In the United States, for example, the number of honey bee colonies that exist today is less than half that of historic levels due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists and researchers are striving to better understand why this is happening and have identified the parasitic varroa mite as one of the major causes.

Recognizing the importance of honey bees to the future of sustainable agriculture, we are working hard, alongside others, to find solutions to this complex challenge. These collaborations build upon the research we’ve been involved in since 2011 when we acquired Beeologics, an organization focused on researching and testing agricultural biological products that provide targeted control of pests and diseases without harm to the honey bee.

Honey Bee Health Coalition. In 2013, at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting, we announced our Commitment to Action on honey bee health. An important part of this commitment is our investment of time and resources in the Honey Bee Health Coalition (HBHC), a diverse collaborative effort convened by policy think tank, The Keystone Policy Center.

This independent group of more than 30 organizations and agencies from across the food, agriculture, government, conservation and beekeeping sectors are working on real and meaningful improvements to honey bee health.

In 2014, the HBHC unveiled the first major outcome of our collaboration, the Bee Healthy Roadmap, which lays out specific priorities and actions members will take to improve the health of pollinators while meeting the needs of farmers and preserving the environment. Priority areas include improving hive management, forage and nutrition, and crop pest management, as well as cross-industry education and outreach.

As part of our commitment, Monsanto has already invested more than $1 million in research to discover and develop ways to control varroa mites. Combined, these efforts are intended to help sustain and grow honey bee populations, contributing to a more secure global food supply.

Honey Bee Advisory Council. To help guide our honey bee health research and outreach, we looked outside our walls for counsel to form the Monsanto Honey Bee Advisory Council (HBAC), tapping members of the beekeeping industry, academics and other experts.

HBAC members include:

  • Diana Cox-Foster, Ph.D., Entomology, Penn State University
  • David Mendes, commercial beekeeper and past president of American Beekeeping Federation
  • Gus Rouse, honey bee queen breeder and owner of Kona Queen Hawaii, Inc.
  • Larry Johnson, row crops farmer and commercial beekeeper
  • Dennis van Engelsdorp, PhD., Entomology, University of Maryland
  • Pete Berthelson, Director of Habitat Partnerships, Pheasants Forever

​In June 2013, the HBAC collaborated with nonprofit Project Apis m. (PAm) to host the Honey Bee Health Summit at Monsanto’s Chesterfield, Mo. campus. This first-of-its-kind meeting brought together experts in the commercial beekeeping, academic, public and private sectors to discuss the many issues impacting honey bee health. Participants shared research and discussed ways to help solve the challenges facing the world’s most important pollinator.

Project Apis mellifera (PAm). Almond crops are a crucial part of the California agriculture industry that requires 800 commercial beekeepers and more than 1.8 million honey bee colonies – transported from around the country – for pollination each year. By placing a variety of early-blooming flowers in areas adjacent to almond groves and other farmland, bees have access to a nutritious food source during peak pollination times.

Our three-year partnership with PAm, a leading organization dedicated to improving the vitality of honey bee colonies, includes a $250,000 investment in educating California almond growers and landowners on the value of honey bee forage, as well as planting forage itself. With 2014 marking the second year of the partnership, together we have planted more than 3,000 acres of forage.

Bee Informed Partnership. Monsanto’s Honey Bee Health Lead Jerry Hayes is part of a group that supports the work of the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP). Supported by the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, BIP is working with beekeepers to better understand how to keep healthier bees. This collaboration of efforts across the United States includes leading research labs and universities in agriculture and science. In 2014, Hayes spoke at events hosted by BIP and more than two dozen other organizations dedicated to honey bee health.

Supporting the Flight of the Monarch Butterfly
Experts agree – the number of monarch butterflies in the United States has fluctuated. Many studying monarchs think a number of factors are contributing to lower numbers, including logging in Mexico, weather at overwintering sites and during migration, land use changes and the loss of habitat. The availability of milkweed plants for butterfly habitat in the United States is certainly a contributing factor.

The challenge is complicated. Monarchs need milkweeds to survive but farmers consider the plant a weed which competes with their crops for water and nutrients.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants to nurture their young, but the availability of the plants has fluctuated across the monarch migration range as agricultural production systems have evolved. Since agriculture production and wildlife habitat are both needed, it is critical that we find ways as a society to achieve both.

We are currently collaborating with experts from universities, nonprofits and government agencies focused on the establishment of monarch habitat in Conservation Reserve Program land, on-farm buffer strips, roadsides, utility rights of way, government-owned land and our own facilities. In March 2015, we announced that we are partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to provide $3.6 million over three years to the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund – which will support habitat restoration, education, outreach and milkweed seed production to benefit monarch butterflies – as well as other support for the efforts of experts working to benefit monarch butterflies. We’re also part of a newly formed coalition, convened by The Keystone Policy Center, which is bringing together a diverse group of conservationists, farmers, scientists and landscape professionals from across the country to find solutions to the challenges facing monarchs and other pollinators. Monsanto is committed to making a difference by exploring ways for agriculture to co-exist with natural wonders like the monarch butterfly.

This excerpt was originally published in Monsanto’s 2014 Sustainability Report. You can read the entire report here.