The honeybee has always played an important role in the US economy, producing honey and wax, which in turn are used in countless other products. Today, however, the honeybee’s primary responsibility is pollination. Honeybees are responsible for 80% of crop pollination in the US, contributing $15 billion annually to the US farming industry.
Currently, there are approximately 2.68 million honeybee colonies in America. Due to their prevalence and importance in the US, many people are surprised to learn that the honeybee isn’t native to our country. In fact, it isn’t native to any part of North America.
With the current threat of honeybee extinction due to Colony Collapse Disorder, it’s important to understand why we’re so reliant on this pollinator in the first place. To know that, we need to look at the history of the honeybee.
How the Honeybee Got to America
The honeybee found in America is Apis mellifera, which translates to honey-bearing bee. It’s most commonly known as the European honeybee or the western honeybee. Like all honeybees, this species lives in colonies with a singular queen, a few fertile male drones, and a lot of non-reproductive females known as the worker bees.
Even before modern civilizations, ancient cave drawings and paintings show humans tracking down and foraging for honey from honeybee hives. Egyptians, Grecians, and Romans all developed and organized beekeeping centers. This practice was revived and refined further by Christian monasteries in 400 AD who would harvest honey, gather wax, and brew mead.
As European settlers began traveling to North America, they brought a variety of goods and animals with them that weren’t native to the land. This included wheat, barley, horses, pheasants, and of course, honeybees.
Initially, honeybees continued to be used mostly for production of honey and wax. But as farming expanded and become more industrialized, farmers around the world began to strategically use honeybees to pollinate their crops and increase yields. Soon, certain crops become almost entirely dependent on honeybee pollination.
Why the Honeybee?
There’s no question that honeybees are talented pollinators. They’re attracted to a large variety of plants, they thrive in regions across the US, and of course, they’re naturally designed to carry out the task of pollination. However, they’re not particularly better at it than any other bee. In fact, bumblebees are generally able to gather more pollen and nectar due to their larger, fuzzier bodies, and longer tongues.
Meanwhile, other pollinators such as butterflies and moths pollinate species that bees don’t.
It’s most likely that honeybees are utilized to the degree they are simply because they were already being farmed and kept in large quantities. In the 1900s, farmers began to notice that crops, orchards, and gardens near apiaries had higher yields. Soon, apiarists (beekeepers) had a new market for business.
While this system has worked relatively well for the past century, it’s put us in a place where we’re ultimately too reliant on a singular species of pollinator. Were the honeybee to suddenly go extinct, we’d face a number of serious problems.
That is why industry experts are pushing for an emphasis on pollinator diversity. By lightening the burden placed on the honeybee, we can better protect ourselves and enjoy improved results. Meanwhile, nature as a whole benefits from an increase in pollinator presence.
One of the best ways for farmers and landowners to promote pollinator diversity is through the Conservation Reserve Program. By taking marginal land out of active production and establishing pollinator habitat, CRP contract holders receive market-based rental payments, as well as reimbursement for establishment expenses.
If you’re enrolling in CRP, and you need quality CRP pollinator seed, All Native Seed has you covered. Click here to browse our proprietary seed mixes that have been tested and refined across 370,000 acres of CRP establishment. For a quote on a seed mix developed by NRCS, click here.
If you’d prefer to have someone handle the entire process for you, including seed purchasing, planting, herbicide application, and report submissions, visit our parent company’s website here. With FDCE’s full-service CRP solutions, it couldn’t be easier to establish a diverse pollinator habitat.