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New Pollinator Plan Aims To Cut Kentucky's Honeybee Losses

ForestWander Nature Photography

Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture is seeking public input on the state’s first pollinator protection plan. The plan lays out best management practices for beekeepers, landowners, government agencies and pesticide applicators, in an effort to slow the rapid die-off of honeybees and other pollinators.

State Apiarist Tammy Horn said complying with the pollinator plan is voluntary, though the state is required to create one via federal mandate. But she said there’s clearly a problem with honeybee health. In the 1970s, beekeepers recorded honeybee losses of about six percent. Last year, it was more than 30 percent.

“Pollinators were on the backburner for awhile,” Horn said. “And I think it’s come back to haunt us. You look at the healthy fruits and nuts that depend upon pollination, obviously they cost much higher now. And they’re going to continue to cost much higher as long as we have these hive deaths that are in the 30s.”

One thing not included in the plan is mandatory hive registration. Some states do this, which allows agriculture staff to better track what diseases are affecting local bee populations, as well as provide an easy way for people spraying crops with pesticides to see if there are any hives nearby that may be affected.

Horn said mandatory registration works well in some states, but those states tend to have multiple apiarists to manage the program, unlike Kentucky. The draft pollinator protection plan includes a provision for voluntary registration, which Horn said is a good first step.

“So, if chemical applicators are spraying in a certain area, then beekeepers in the area can receive an email notice and then they can take measures to either move their hives or cover their hives with nets, or something like that,” she said.

The plan was created with input from nearly two dozen stakeholder groups, from beekeepers to environmental groups to researchers to farmers. Horn said she believes the document is something everyone can get behind.

“Everyone has an interest in pollinator health,” she said. “Everyone eats. It’s that simple. Because Kentucky has a diverse ag economy, the issue of pollinators is just going to get more and more important.”

There will be a public forum on the draft pollinator protection plan on Feb. 24 at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (109 Corporate Drive Complex, Frankfort). Horn said there will be an additional forum this summer in Bowling Green. To read the plan, go here.