June 20, 2014

Farm Beat: House bill calls for more bee habitat along nation’s highways

Two congressmen are calling for highway landscaping that’s designed to provide habitat for the bees, birds, bats and butterflies that pollinate crops and native plants around the country.

We are in the midst of National Pollinator Week, which teaches consumers about the importance of honeybees and other creatures to our food supply.

It’s an occasion for two congressmen to suggest that highway landscaping be designed to provide habitat and food for the bees, birds, bats and butterflies that pollinate crops and native plants around the country.

One of them is Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock. He joined Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., in introducing HR 4790 last month. It urges pollinator-friendly landscaping on the 17 million acres of right of way under state ownership, as well as other highways.

Denham grows almonds, the most lucrative crop in the northern San Joaquin Valley and the nation’s largest user of commercial colonies of European honeybees.

“After years of steady decline in our pollinator population, we must continue to do all we can to protect the long-term viability of our bees and other beneficial insects,” Denham said in a news release.

He and Hastings chair the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus, created in 2010 to address a sharp drop in the bee population in recent years. Experts say several factors could be causing the decline, including drought, disease and a shortage of natural vegetation to provide nectar and pollen when crops are not blooming.

Denham’s opponent in the Nov. 4 election, Democrat Michael Eggman, happens to be a commercial beekeeper and almond grower near Turlock. No wonder this race is generating buzz.

Elsewhere on The Bee’s bee beat:

Blue Diamond Growers, the state’s largest almond producer and a major Stanislaus County employer, announced several honey-flavored products this week. And it noted the contribution of bees both in pollinating the almond crop and in making the sweetener.

The company has four new flavors of snack almonds: honey roasted, honey roasted vanilla, honey roasted cinnamon and honey roasted chipotle. It has added honey cinnamon and honey mustard flavors to the Nut Thins line of crackers, too. And the Almond Breeze milk alternative now has honey vanilla and “hint of honey” versions.

“Honey is growing in popularity as a great natural alternative to sugar,” said Al Greenlee, director of marketing at Blue Diamond, in a news release. “Honey’s sweet yet understated flavor adds complexity to any meal or snack.”

The grower-owned cooperative makes its flavored consumer products in Sacramento. It also has plants in Salida and Turlock.

Blue Diamond announced a $100,000 donation to Project Apis m., a national partnership working on behalf of honeybees. The name is from their scientific term, Apis mellifera.

The weeklong observance for pollinators ends Sunday, which also happens to be National Onion Ring Day, announced in an email from the National Onion Association in Greeley, Colo.

We are not getting off topic here. Honeybees pollinate the onion flowers that produce the seed used by onion growers. Without them, nothing gets breaded and deep-fried.

Onions are not notable crops in Stanislaus and Merced counties, but San Joaquin County produced about $13.7 million worth of them in 2012, according to its agricultural commissioner.

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