The work is already paying off with changes to once-common beekeeping practices, such as supplementing bees’ diet with high-fructose corn syrup, said David Epstein, a senior entomologist with the USDA. He noted that the quality of bees’ food is as important as the quantity.
Tim Tucker, who has between 400 and 500 hives at sites in Kansas and Texas, said he may take some of his bees to South Dakota this year because the fields around his farm near Niotaze, Kan., no longer provide much food for them.
“There used to be a lot of small farms in our area that had clover and a variety of crops, whereas in the last 20 years it’s really been corn, soybean and cotton and a little bit of canola,” Tucker said. “But those crops don’t provide a lot of good nectar and pollen for bees.”
Tucker, who is president of the American Beekeeping Federation, said the last “really good” year he had was 1999, when he got more than 100 pounds of honey per hive. Last year, he averaged about 42 pounds per hive.
He hopes dairy farmers, beef cattle ranchers and others will sign up for the new USDA program by the March 21 deadline.
It’s not a “cure all,” Tucker said, but “anything we do to help provide habitat for honeybees and for native bees and pollinators is a step.”