Beekeeper funding focuses on honeybee health

Published 11:12 am Friday, June 8, 2018

Virginia Farm Bureau

June 18-24 has been set aside as National Pollinator Week, and Gov. Ralph Northam has declared it Virginia Pollinator Week as well.

The national celebration was created 11 years ago by the U.S. Senate to emphasize the roles of pollinators and celebrate how citizens can play a part in protecting them. It was in response to the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations, including bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.

While all pollinators are important, honeybees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in the U.S. In Virginia, honeybees are essential pollinators for about one-third of the state’s fruit and vegetable crops, so they are important to farmers and consumers alike.

The interest in renewing Virginia’s honeybees has been so strong that the General Assembly established a grant program in 2012 to help new beekeepers start operations. Under the program, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued 730 grants that helped establish 2,244 bee colonies.

Funding for the program was discontinued in 2017 to determine if the program was helping restore beehives. VDACS surveyed grant recipients and more than half reported they had increased the number of beehives. Sixty percent planned to increase the number of beehives in the future.

This year, the General Assembly restored $125,000 for each year of the biennium for the beekeeper grant program. Under the grant program, individuals who meet the plan’s qualifications will receive a standard beekeeping kit.

“The study showed that the program is working and people are utilizing the grant program as one important piece in the puzzle of replenishing our bee population,” said Martha Moore, vice president of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, which has continuously supported the beekeeper grant program.

“Because honeybees are so integral to crop pollination, it’s important for this program to continue,” Moore added. “We’re pleased that they’ve streamlined the program and believe the kits will be even more effective in establishing beehives.”

If you don’t want to become a beekeeper, there are other ways to help protect honeybees. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services encourages people to create a pollinator window box.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers tips on creating a pollinator window box on its website:

In addition to instructions on making one of these pollinator boxes, the site includes a feature that allows people to determine which plants will provide pollinator forage based on their zip code.