Says honey bee colonies vital to New York’s agricultural economy
Submitted on behalf of New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli
New York state has more than 7 million acres of farmland, and many of its crops are dependent on pollination by bees and other pollinators. To address a drastic decline in the population of these essential pollinators, in 2016 the state created the pollinator protection plan. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets should step up efforts to ensure honey bee populations are protected, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“New York’s farmers know how important honey bees and other pollinators are to our food supply and environmental health,” he said. “The state has designed a program to protect their declining populations, and my latest audit found the Department of Agriculture and Markets can do more to detect the diseases and parasites that destroy bee colonies. Agriculture is a key part of New York’s economy and we should do everything we can to support it. I encourage the department to implement my recommendations and thank them for the positive response to this audit.”
Over the past three decades, the honey bee population in New York has declined drastically, in large part due to invasive pests and diseases, exposure to pesticides and other chemicals and climate change. This decline has major implications for New York’s agricultural industry, food supply and environment.
New York’s 2016 pollinator protection plan estimated managed honey bee colony losses at more than 50% and some migratory colony losses in excess of 70% over several years. To help address this loss, in 2021, a law that requires beekeepers to register their apiaries was reinstated, and the Agriculture and Markets Law was amended to include the cooperative honey bee health improvement program. Both of these measures were designed to help inspect, track and document the population levels and health of the state’s honey bees. The program enables the department to perform inspections of apiaries for the presence of infections, diseases and organisms adversely affecting the bee population.
In a review of the department’s work to inspect apiaries, auditors determined that the department needs to do more to:
√ Identify the full population of apiaries in New York;
√ Combat diseases and harmful organisms within colonies; and
√ Ensure honey bees entering the state are healthy and free from disease.
To determine the department’s effectiveness at inspecting apiaries, auditors selected a sample of 120 apiaries from a prior database that had either never been inspected or had not been inspected in the five years prior to December 2021. They found that 112 of the 120 apiaries selected had not registered with the department as of August 2022, including 33 that appeared to still be operating despite not being registered with the department.
Auditors also looked at how well the department inspected for and addressed diseases and parasites, particularly the disease American Foulbrood and Varroa mites, which are the most serious pest of honey bees according to the USDA. Auditors found that the department had not established or publicized a tolerance level for Varroa mites. Also, in cases where the department identified Varroa mites in apiaries, the department did not follow up with beekeepers to ensure that colonies were treated.
Auditors also found that the department is not doing enough to ensure honey bees entering New York are healthy and free from disease. Between 2017 and 2021, one of the top states from which honey bees were brought into New York was Maryland. According to audit findings, the department did not issue a permit or obtain a disease-free certification, as they are supposed to, from over 75% of the Maryland beekeepers bringing honey bees into New York.
DiNapoli’s recommendations included that the department:
√ Improve its registration and apiary inspection efforts.
√ Develop additional procedures to ensure honey bee shipments into the state are certified disease- and parasite-free.
In its response, the department generally agreed with the findings and expressed willingness to improve operations as per the recommendations made in the audit.
√ Interactive Map Journal (Supplement to January 2023 audit of AG and Markets)
√ A Profile of Agriculture in New York State (August 2019)
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