US Farmers Plant to Feed Bees


Farmers in California and other states are turning over a percentage of crop land to wildflowers and shrubs that are attractive to bees. Improving bee habitat and nutrition, they hope, will boost the dwindling populations of native bees and help cut the costs of commercial pollination.

The bee habitat enhancement effort was organized by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit group out of Portland, Oregon.

Getting farmers to plant bee habitat is key, [Mace] Vaughan [the group’s pollinator program director] said, because bees with nutritionally sound diets are better able to fend off diseases and other problems.

Bee habitat can also reduce a farmer’s costs and alleviate the stress on honeybees. Through research on California’s watermelons, University of California, Berkeley, professor Claire Kremen found that if a farmer sets aside between 20 percent and 30 percent of a field for bee habitat, the farm can get all or most of its pollination from native bees.

That’s unrealistic for most farms, but Kremen said adding hedgerows and other plantings can help sustain a beneficial combination of native and commercial bees. Research has found that native bees make commercial honeybees more efficient pollinators by getting in their way and making them take a more circuitous route from plant to plant.

“What it means is you don’t have to have a huge number of native bees, but if you have some then the combination of honeybees and native bees has a huge effect,” Kremen said.

Other researchers have found that setting aside bee habitat leads to better crop production on the remaining land, compensating the farmer.

Read the full story, Farmers Add Plants to Attract, Nourish Bees at the National Public Radio website, NPR.org.