September 19, 2019

Hirono, Senate Democrats Press USDA to Justify Critical Honeybee Data Gaps

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and 22 Senate Democrats wrote to Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, expressing concerns over the Department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) decision to reduce or even suspend the collection of honeybee data across the nation.

“In July NASS announced that it would suspend the collection of quarterly data for the annual Honey Bee Colonies report. The Honey Bee Colonies report, first published in 2016, is the only national survey tracking honeybee loss that is overseen by the federal government. It not only provides key data to beekeepers, the honey industry, and farmers whose crops rely on honeybees for pollination but also helps to guide honeybee management decisions and identifies colony health stressors. USDA’s recent announcement that it would resume the Colony Loss Survey, following a one-quarter suspension, to inform the Honey Bee Colonies report is welcome news. However, USDA’s prior actions to suspend or scale back the collection of additional honeybee data remains a concern,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators’ efforts are supported by national groups such as the American Honey Producers Association and the American Beekeeping Federation. Local support includes Big Island Bees, an apiary on Hawaii Island that Senator Hirono visited last month to learn more about the importance of honeybee production in Hawaii.

“The NASS reports on colony numbers, honey production and pollination contracts are foundational data reports upon which the industry, academia and government agencies base decisions. Without these reports, we can only regress in our understanding of what is happening to the health and vitality of America’s honey bees and America’s beekeeping operations,” said Eric Silva, Federal Policy Counsel, American Honey Producers Association. “As an industry, we need more not less data if we hope to arrive at better solutions for ensuring that honey bees stay alive and thrive to produce high quality honey and pollinate $20 billion in specialty crops annually.”

“The American Beekeeping Federation is in full support of USDA’s decision to resume the NASS on the health of managed honey bees,” said Tim May, President of the American Beekeeping Federation and commercial beekeeper. “Honey bees are so important to our country’s agriculture and with their continued declining health it is imperative that the USDA continue to monitor colony health regularly it is critical to the future of U.S. agriculture production.”

"Data collection has saved our operation. Without an understanding of the issues we face, we would be left out in the dark on how to best keep our bees alive. Information provided in USDA reports and surveys allows researchers to develop methods that allow us to maintain healthy colonies,” said Garnett Puett, Big Island Bees co-owner and beekeeper. “The more data we have, the better our ability to protect honeybees here in the U.S. and across the globe.”

The Senators also requested the following information related to the decision to limit fiscal and program resources:

-          The Fiscal Year 2019 funding amount that Congress provided NASS to collect information for the Cost of Pollination Survey and the Honey survey.

-          The amount of money that remained in the budget for the aforementioned surveys at the time that NASS announced the decisions to suspend or scale back each of these surveys.

-          The cost savings incurred by NASS to scale back or suspend these surveys.

-          The current location of the cost savings incurred because of these decisions.

Joining Senator Hirono on the letter to Secretary Perdue are U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

The full text of the letter to Secretary Perdue is available here and below:

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write to express concern and request information regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) decisions to suspend or reduce the collection of important honeybee data across our nation. 

In July NASS announced that it would suspend the collection of quarterly data for the annual Honey Bee Colonies report. The Honey Bee Colonies report, first published in 2016, is the only national survey tracking honeybee loss that is overseen by the federal government. It not only provides key data to beekeepers, the honey industry, and farmers whose crops rely on honeybees for pollination but also helps to guide honeybee management decisions and identifies colony health stressors. USDA’s recent announcement that it would resume the Colony Loss Survey, following a one-quarter suspension, to inform the Honey Bee Colonies report is welcome news. However, USDA’s prior actions to suspend or scale back the collection of additional honeybee data remains a concern. 

Earlier this year the USDA announced it would scale back the data collected for the Honey survey to exclude operations with less than five honeybee colonies. Prior to this announcement NASS had been collecting data on all sizes of operations since 2016. The Honey survey provides information on honey production, number of honey producing colonies, yield per colony, the price of honey, and price per queen bee. Additionally, late last year USDA announced that it would suspend the Cost of Pollination Survey. The Cost of Pollination Survey, first published in 2016, tracks how much farmers are paying for pollination services and identifies the monetary value of pollinators.

According to the NASS website, the decisions to scale back or suspend these surveys were “necessary given available fiscal and program resources.” However, these actions by USDA are particularly concerning given how much our agricultural industry and society depend on pollinators. It is estimated that one-third of our food supply relies on honeybees for pollination. The information provided by these surveys allows valuable insight into a critical agricultural commodity that is estimated to be worth $20 billion to U.S. crop production.

To help us better understand these decisions and affirm that they are the result of limited fiscal and program resources, we request the following information by October 2, 2019:

-          The Fiscal Year 2019 funding amount that Congress provided NASS to collect information for the Cost of Pollination Survey and the Honey survey.

-          The amount of money that remained in the budget for the aforementioned surveys at the time that NASS announced the decisions to suspend or scale back each of these surveys.

-          The cost savings incurred by NASS to scale back or suspend these surveys.

-          The current location of the cost savings incurred because of these decisions.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

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