Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have been awarded a 6.9 million dollar grant by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop sustainable pollination strategies for the country’s specialty crops. In this country specialty crops account for 50 billion dollars per year for the agricultural industry and pollination is critical to fruit set and, therefore, profitability. Declines in pollinator populations, including honeybees, severely affects this industry and the fruits, vegetables and nuts demanded across the nation and around the world.
The goals of this project are to provide growers and farmers with actionable information on pollination and pollinator management best practices which will ensure the success of their crops. The grant supporting this research was funded through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative created as a part of the 2014 Farm Bill. Entomology researcher and extension specialist , Rufus Isaacs, is leading the team in an effort to develop and implement recommendations for context-specific, integrated crop pollination (ICP) by harnessing the potential and abilities of native bees.
To date, the research team headed by Isaacs and staffed by 50 scientists from across the country, has established and measured bees and crop yields in over 100 fields on farms from California to Pennsylvania. Some sites were pollinated by honeybees, some had added wildflower habitat meant to attract pollinators and some amended their pollinator population with other types of managed bees. These fields will continue to be monitored and compared for performance, changes to economic value and social aspects of methods to assist in the development of educational tactics and decision-making information. The team will pursue the following objectives as a foundation for the overall goal of improving long-term sustainability of U.S. speciality crops:
- Identifying economically valuable pollinators and factors affecting their abundance.
- Developing habitat management practices to improve crop pollination.
- Determining performance of alternative managed bees as specialty crop pollinators.
- Demonstrating and delivering ICP practices to specialty crops growers.
- Determining optimal methods for ICP information delivery and measuring ICP adoption.
- Analyzing economics and modeling of pollination ecosystem services.
The MSU team includes scientists from Loyola University, Franklin and Marshall College, Penn State University, University of Florida, University of Vermont, The Xerces Society, the University of California-Davis and UC-Berkeley, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and a private company, Pacific Pollination. A large number of farmers are contributing to this collaboration by providing in-kind support for the research such as use of their land and a diverse advisory board of stakeholders.