EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. Agriculture Department has awarded Michigan State University $6.9 million to study and develop bee pollination strategies for specialty crop growers.
The grant was announced Wednesday and is part of the 2014 Farm Bill that was signed earlier this year by President Barack Obama on the school's East Lansing campus. Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, nuts and nursery crops, among other plants.
Two studies published last year in the journal Science concluded that the numbers of American bumblebees and other wild bees are dwindling in the Midwest, possibly from disease and parasites. The bees pollinate flowers and crops.
"Specialty crops are valued at more than $50 billion every year, and pollination is critical to ensure successful fruit set and profitability of the industry," Sonny Ramaswamy, National Institute of Food and Agriculture director, said in a statement. "With the recent declines in pollinator numbers, especially honey bees, this grant is extremely important for the sustainability of the specialty crop industry in the United States."
The research will provide growers with information and management practices "that will keep their crops productive year after year," Ramaswamy added.
The project's goal is to develop recommendations on harnessing the potential of native bees for crop pollination. It will be led by Michigan State AgBioResearch entomology researcher Rufus Isaacs. His team includes scientists from a number of colleges and universities .
Farmers also are allowing their land to be used for the research.
"We have established and measured bees and crop yields in more than 100 fields at farms from California to Pennsylvania, some pollinated with honey bees, some with wildflower habitat added for pollinators and some augmented with other types of managed bees," Isaacs said.
The team will continue monitoring those fields during the study.