Bee producers say current program falls short in several ways

By JOHN SCHMITZ

For the Capital Press

A USDA program designed to provide partial financial disaster relief to beekeepers who have suffered losses due to colony collapse disorder has drawn some criticism from one Washington beekeeper.

Calling the program a "major disaster," Chester Ferguson of Yakima said the Farm Service Agency denied him any compensation under the Emergency Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program -- called ELAP -- for bee losses.

The reason given for the denial, he said, was that he was unqualified for 60-40 cost-sharing funds because he hadn't applied in time for relief under FSA's Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance program, which is designed to give financial aid to beekeepers for honey production shortfalls.

Ferguson said he didn't apply for the NAP aid because his isn't a honey-producing operation.

"I wasn't gearing my operation for honey. I was gearing to produce bees, which means sacrificing all my honey," he said.

What's more, he said, he was told that even if he had qualified for the ELAP program he would have to have an entomologist verify losses due to colony collapse and that he would have to show receipts for all replacement bees, hives and feed purchased.

Amy Paulson, state FSA program specialist in Spokane, Wash., said that Ferguson may be able to skirt the NAP enrollment qualification by applying for "equitable relief," which would then be approved or denied by the Washington state FSA committee. "He may very well qualify."

Ferguson said he had applied for equitable relief and that the case was pending.

Carlton, Ore., beekeeper George Hansen, an officer with the American Beekeeping Federation, said the group, along with others, has been working with USDA to make ELAP a more workable program.

One of the hang-ups with the current ELAP program is that a qualified entomologist or university extension specialist must provide certification that colony collapse losses actually occurred.

"At (Oregon State University) until recently we didn't even have an extension person working with honeybees," Hansen said. Also, the causes of colony collapse are not yet clearly defined.

Washington County, Ore., FSA program specialist Tony Meeuwsen said that USDA is in the process of changing the wording of the ELAP program, and that the new requirements will likely benefit beekeepers.

The new provisions probably will allow producers to self-certify that their 2008-09 losses were as a result of colony collapse disorder, he said. For 2010-11, using a third-party certification, possibly another knowledgeable beekeeper, might be possible.

Meeuwsen said that, while "unofficial," USDA is also considering changing the prerequisite that beekeepers pay for restocking their hives before they're eligible for disaster relief.

Meeuwsen said that around a dozen Oregon beekeepers have applied for ELAP relief.

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