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Upstate NY Is An Agricultural Hive Of Productivity, But Recent Fed Decision That Imperils The Future Of Bees Would Threaten Much Of What Makes The Capital Region Buzz  

With USDA Recently Announcing Its Intention To Stop Collecting Data On Honey Bee Colonies In Places Like Albany, Schumer Will Push Plan To Reconsider, & Step-Up Work, Not Stop It 

Schumer To Feds: Honey Bees Are Fundamental To Upstate NY’s Sweet Ag Industry, And Local Jobs

Standing amidst a swarm of advocates, at the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed how a recent under-the-radar decision on bees could sting Upstate, the Capital Region, its local Ag efforts, and even a budding jobs niche that supplies summer farmers’ markets and local restaurants. Schumer detailed a recent fed decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stop collecting data on honey bees that could put both the species and the Upstate region’s economy, at risk. Schumer said that the Capital Region is a hive of productivity, but that this recent decision by the feds could derail much of what keeps Upstate competitive and robust as an agricultural hub. Schumer called on the USDA to reverse course immediately, and instead, step-up its work on bee populations. Schumer revealed numbers that prove his point and hit home the critical importance of the honey bees to Upstate and the Capital Region’s agriculture sector.

“It sure helps, but you don’t need to be a beekeeper to understand the benefit pollinating bees have on the Upstate economy and the Capital Region,” said Senator Schumer. “Look around and you will see that they boost an agricultural hive of economic productivity. From farmers’ markets, to farm-to-table restaurants, to apples to flowers that solidify our area as an agricultural hub, we have a lot to tout —and it is because of bees like these. So to find out that that, in an under-the-radar move from Washington, the USDA has clipped the wings of a critical data-collection program on honey bee colonies, impacting jobs and productivity in places like Albany, really stings.”

Schumer explained that earlier this month, USDA said it would stop collecting data for its Honey Bee Colonies report. The Honey Bee Colonies report, conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, is released on an annual basis and contains critical data, tracking active honey bee colonies, new colonies and lost colonies. Schumer called the decision to suspend data collection for the report especially concerning, considering the devastating honey bee colony losses experienced in the United States over the past few decades. According to a report from USDA, the number of active honey bee colonies plummeted from 6 million in the 1940s to roughly 2.5 million in 2017. More recently, during the winter of 2018, beekeepers suffered their worst losses on record. Data from the University of Maryland’s Bee Informed Partnership shows that beekeepers lost 37.7% of their colonies during this season, 8.9% higher than the average for winter. Schumer argued that this historic population decline shows that USDA should ratchet up its honey bee data collection, not shut it down.

Schumer said that New York State and the Capital Region have not been immune to the devastation of honey bee colonies. According to the most recent Honey Bee Colonies report released by USDA, between January and December of 2017, New York State beekeepers lost a total of 17,700 colonies of honey bees. Meanwhile, in the first six months of 2018, New York State beekeepers lost 7,000 colonies. Schumer said these losses, combined with the fact that according to a June 2018 New York State Department of Agriculture report, crops dependent on honey bee pollination are worth $1.2 billion annually to the state, present a critical need to understand what exactly is causing them and how they can be reversed. This data is critical to protecting the honey bee-reliant Upstate New York agricultural industry.

“We need this data to keep New York an agricultural juggernaut,” added Schumer. “What’s the real stinger here is that the bees are part of the economy. They keep local businesses and jobs buzzing. To enact a new policy that discounts bees and their impact on New York is bad environmental, economic and agricultural policy. We are here today to say: reverse the decision, and instead step things up as this insect’s population spirals,” added Schumer.   

The dwindling bee population is of particular concern for the Capital Region’s agricultural industry, which is a hive of economic activity. According to USDA, $47,328,000 worth of agricultural products were sold out of Albany County in 2017; $5,462,000 worth of agricultural products were sold out of Schenectady County in 2017; and $41,010,00 worth of agricultural products were sold out of Rensselaer County in 2017. Furthermore, in 2017, Albany County was home to 247 acres of and 32 total non-citrus fruit and nut farms; Schenectady County was home to 41 acres of and 11 total farms; and Rensselaer County was home to 401 acres of and 38 total farms. Schumer said that with honey bees responsible for helping pollinate roughly 1/3rd of the nation’s consumed crops, their extinction puts the future success of Capital Region farms and the many jobs they provide in jeopardy.

The extinction of honey bees also presents a significant to challenge to New York State’s burgeoning honey industry. In 2017, 3,046,315 pounds of honey were collected from New York State farms and sales totaled $8,660,000. Schumer said that should honey bee colony numbers continue plummeting, not only would these sales be jeopardized, but Capital Region restaurants and farmers’ markets would be forced to pay more for or completely stripped of the freshest, locally-sourced honey.

Schumer explained that these dire numbers show the absolute necessity of USDA’s Honey Bee Colonies report. Therefore, Schumer urged the USDA to reverse course and maintain the collection of data for the Honey Bee Colonies report, to accurately track honey bees in the United States and protect Capital Region agriculture from getting stung.

Schumer was joined by Stacy Pettigrew, Executive Director of the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, Scott Kellogg, Education Director of the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center; Rene St. Jacques, Assistant Director of Public Policy for the New York Farm Bureau; Chuck Kutik, owner and operator of Kutik’s Honeyfarm; and Graig Moore an Albany beekeeper.

“New York Farm Bureau values the role that pollinators play in the agriculture industry and New York Farm Bureau membership represents the diversity of New York agriculture including farmers that rely on honey bees to perform pollinator services as well as the beekeepers that provide these valuable services. Pollinators are incredibly important to the agricultural economy in New York State, which is a leading producer of specialty crops that require or benefit from pollination, including apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, pumpkins, and beans, just to name a few. These pollination dependent crops contribute $1.2 billion annually to the state’s agricultural economy. The honey bee provides 50% of crop pollination services in New York State, yet there continue to be losses of honey bee colonies year after year. These losses not only impact honey bee producers and their livelihoods but the overall agricultural economy and well as the sustainability of the New York State food system. For the benefit of the entire New York agriculture industry, it is imperative that honey bee colonies continue to thrive and in turn must be accurately monitored to ensure longevity of both bees and farmers, ” said Rene St. Jacques, Assistant Director of Public Policy for the New York Farm Bureau.

The Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, founded in 2009 by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew in the heart of Albany’s South End, is a sustainable urban farm that aims to teach the local youth about healthy food and sustainability. The Radix Center is home to four hives of honey bees, which pollinate the crops on the farm and other vegetation across about a 5-mile radius. The Radix Center is also home to a solar-powered greenhouse, which acts as its main educational facility.