What’s one essential service that may have gone under your radar during the coronavirus pandemic? How about the work honey bees and their keepers do?
Beekeepers have had their hands full with travel restrictions during statewide stay-at-home orders. So much of agriculture relies on bees traveling from farm to farm to pollinate crops, but with bees in increasingly short supply in the natural environment and beekeepers unable to transport them, some farmers have been left in the lurch. Yet there was some good news for bees this summer. While yearly losses have become a new normal, this year “turned out to be a very good year“ for bee populations, Nathalie Steinhauer, science coordinator for the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership, told the Associated Press.
Of course, this year’s good news doesn’t diminish the trend of yearly winter losses of 30 or so percent that beekeepers have come to expect in their hives. Some threats contributing to these declines include climate change, habitat fragmentation and loss, and the introduction of invasive species.
With Climate Week coming up on September 21, it’s important to note that climate action is urgent for the humble honey bee. A warming atmosphere induces habitat loss, shifts in flower blooming times and a greater presence of a harmful parasite, among other effects.
Honey bees may seem like a pretty obscure subject to deliberate in this moment. After all, there are 20,000 or so species of bees in the world, and only one is Apis mellifera — the common European honey bee. Yet, Apis m. plays a critical role as a pollinator. A 2018 report published by the Royal Society found the Western honey bee to be the most important species of pollinator across global natural habitats. Apis mellifera is a pervasive generalist and a competent pollinator, the report claims.
All this pollinating has a marked impact on our agricultural systems. Honey bees contribute to the production of 90-plus commercially grown crops in North America, which added over $15 billion in revenue for the U.S. economy in 2014. A U.N. report from last year estimated up to $577 billion in annual global crop loss from pollinator degradation.
Taking all these numbers into account, investing research and money toward honey bees seems like a wise idea, benefiting the national economy and countless businesses. One initiative that aims to help is happening during this year’s 32nd annual National Honey Month, first established by the National Honey Board, an industry-funded group that promotes honey. This September, the Board launched the Honey Saves Hives campaign, together with Kashi, Justin’s and Frönen, catalyzing more than $52,000 in donations to promote bee vitality and resilience.
Kashi, Justin’s and Frönen have committed to making a donation every time someone buys select products that feature honey. For Kashi, that’s its Organic Honey Toasted Oat Cereal. For Justin’s, it’s Honey Almond Butter. And Frönen will donate for any of its six “sweetened with honey” non-dairy ice cream flavors.
Donations will support organizations including Project Apis m. — the largest nonprofit in the nation funding, researching, and encouraging bee colony health and crop success. The nonprofit has funded 102 scientific research projects since 2006, each one helping to advance understanding of how to care for bees and manage crops. Healthier habitats and bees make for greater resilience against climate change, too.
The organization will dedicate donations to “crucial research around mitigation of bee health threats, habitat and forage restoration, best management practices and more,” Danielle Downey, executive director of Project Apis m., said in a press statement.
Honey Saves Hives gives food manufacturers an opportunity to invest in the future of their products. But it also brings every shopper into the mix. Choosing these honey-made items during the rest of September can make an impact on honey bees and the country’s food landscape. Even beyond this month, buying honey in the grocery store any time of year connects a customer to the National Honey Board’s annual 5 percent allocation of revenue to honey bee health research.
“We know that many people share our concern about the threats to bee health and we wanted to give them a way to help. Honey Saves Hives is an easy way to support honey bees by purchasing several delicious products that are made with honey,” Margaret Lombard, CEO of the National Honey Board, said in a statement.
Image courtesy of the National Honey Board via Porter Novelli