WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), today announced $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) incentives for Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin farmers and ranchers who establish new habitats for declining honey bee populations. More than half of the commercially managed honey bees are in these five states during the summer.

This is in addition to $3 million USDA designated to the Midwest states to support bee populations earlier this year through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

"American agricultural production relies on having a healthy honey bee population," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "In recent years, factors such as diseases, parasites, pesticides or habitat loss have contributed to a significant decline in the honey bee population. This $8 million is part of the Administration's ongoing strategy to reverse these trends and establish more plant habitat on Conservation Reserve Program lands to restore the bee population."

The new CRP pollinator initiative is designed to further enhance current CRP land, allowing it to provide better access to nutritious pollinator forage. The program allows for managing or replacing existing vegetation, known as 'covers', with lower cost, high nutrition seed mixes that can support distinct blooming cycles of plants that benefit pollinators. Honey bees, the pollinator workhorse of U.S. fruit and vegetable agriculture, will have more blooms from which to collect nectar and pollen to sustain and promote colony growth and honey production throughout the growing season. By assisting honey bees, the pollinator initiative helps USDA continue to secure the food supply. More than $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including over 130 fruits and vegetables, depend on the health and well-being of honey bees.

Now is a critical time for efforts to support honey bee populations. The honey bee population in the United States has been declining for decades. The number of managed U.S. honey bee colonies dropped from 6 million in 1947, to just 2.5 million today.