WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday announced a federal strategy to reverse a rapid decline in the number of honey bees and other pollinators in the United States that threatens the development of billions of dollars in crops.
As part of the plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $8 million in funding for farmers and ranchers in five states who establish new habitats for honey bee populations.
"Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States," the White House said in a statement announcing the establishment of a multi-agency task force and other measures.
The contribution of native wild pollinators such as bumble bees were valued at $9 billion in 2009.
In May, an annual report from USDA and the "Bee Informed Partnership," an industry group, estimated that total losses of managed honey bee colonies was 23 percent percent over the winter of 2013-14, just the latest in a series of declines.
Over recent years, bees have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says is economically unsustainable. Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, including apples, watermelons and beans.
Crops such as almonds are almost exclusively pollinated by honey bees.
"The problem is serious, and poses a significant challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems," the White House said.
The recent increased loss of honey bee colonies is thought to be caused by factors including a loss of natural forage and inadequate diets, mite infestations and diseases, loss of genetic diversity, and exposure to certain pesticides.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Richard Chang)