OXFORD — In an appearance Thursday at Kutik’s Everything Bees, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, pledged to advocate to restore federal funding for honey bee research and data collection.
“I am here to tell all the beekeepers, farmers and all the related auxiliary industries that depend on our bees that I’m going to do everything I can in the upcoming budget to restore this money,” Schumer said. “If there was ever a place that would be penny wise and pound foolish to cut this money, which is very small in terms of its benefit, it’s here, and we’re going to stop it from happening.”
Chuck Kutik, owner of Kutik’s Everything Bees, said the United States Department of Agriculture announced in July it would stop collecting data for its honey bee colonies report, which is released annually and tracks active bee colonies, new colonies and lost ones.
With the Oct. 1 budget deadline approaching, Schumer decried the proposed cut, calling the decision “under-the-radar” and demanding the USDA restore funding and commit additional resources to protect the country’s bee population.
“We discovered this — it was my staff that worked with some of the folks around here who discovered that they cut this money out,” Schumer said.
“Our hives are collapsing,” he continued. “In the 1940s, there were 6 million honey bees; now there are about 2.5 million. In New York state alone, we have lost since 2018 — one year — 14,700 bee colonies.”
“We need to know why our honey bee population is declining,” Schumer said. “It’s a mystery.”
Kutik said fungicides are “generally considered safe and bee-friendly, but there’s no evidence to prove one way or another what they do to the young brood inside the hive — that really needs to be studied.”
“Agriculture is such an important industry, not just for Chenango County, but for all of New York state,” Schumer said.
Bees pollinate $1.2 billion worth of crops in New York state annually, Schumer said, noting the role pollinators play in the combined $132 million generated by agriculture in Broome and Chenango counties each year.
“There’s lots of things that go into agriculture. We’re familiar with some of them — land, climate and water,” he continued. “But for a large part of New York agriculture, which is roots, vegetables and specialty crops, we need honey bees because they do the pollinating — they are crucial.”
“Every piece of fruit that you eat, every vegetable that you eat, every nut that you eat, has to have been pollinated, in most cases, by honey bees,” said Ken Smith, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County. “The honey bee colonies have been collapsing for reasons that are not really well-understood. Colonies die and evaporate — it’s been a terrible problem.”
Schumer observed that honey production is “on the rise,” highlighting local honey from Kutik’s and ice cream made with it by Gilligan’s Island in Sherburne.
“It’s important to protect our beekeepers because they’re essential to agriculture,” he said. “Take apples — we’re the second-biggest apple state in the country. Without our honey bees, we wouldn’t have any apples.”
Although the USDA did not publicly justify cutting its honey bee research funds, Schumer suggested that the “bean-counters” dismissed the need for the funding as “unimportant or frivolous.”
He also suggested that the federal government is denying the effects of climate change and seeks to eliminate the scientific evidence that would be revealed by such research.
“The most nefarious explanation — one possibility — is that some pesticides and other kinds of products that are put into the ground have killed off the bees,” he said. “Speculation could be that one of these pesticide producers or the pesticide industry got to the USDA and said ‘stop this.’”
“No explanation is a good one, and none justifies the small cost and enormous benefit,” Schumer said. “When we know what’s happening, we can figure it out. Without this information, we’re lost.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.