MSU researchers recently were awarded a $1.7 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct a national pollination research project centered around bees.
The project looks to study the possibility of using bees to pollinate key fruit crops such as apples, cherries and blueberries.
“One of every three bites of food we eat (is) because of bees. So without them, one-third of our diet would be gone,” said Julianna Wilson, an entomology researcher working on the project.
The project will collaborate with teams in nine other states and Canada and will last five years, with MSU receiving an expected $8.4 million.
Rufus Isaacs, an MSU entomology professor, said in an email bees are the main pollinators of many of the world’s crops — from fruit to other products such as alfalfa and coffee. Without the essential movement of pollen from flower to flower by these beneficial insects, crops would be less productive and would be less marketable.
Although not all crops depend on bees, specialty crops are very dependent on these little pollinating workers, and they carry a heavy role on Michigan’s economy.
“The main fruit and vegetable crops dependent on pollination by bees are worth over $350 million to the state’s economy in a typical year, and these are pollinated by honey bees, bumble bees and many other species of bees native to Michigan,” Isaacs said.
For Isaacs, the project is an opportunity to explore new ways to help improve crop production and ultimately improve our economy.
“I am hoping to learn whether integrated crop pollination programs can help support pollination in an economical and sustainable way,” Isaacs said. “My greatest hope is that the wide range of groups with interest in crop pollination involved in this project — growers, researchers, extension people, nonprofit groups and commercial bee suppliers — will be able to develop pollination systems that help ensure the long-term sustainability of crop production.”
The project, Developing Sustainable Pollination Strategies for U.S. Specialty Crops, is set to begin once the federal grant is received. The federal grant will go toward the salaries of the students, postdoctoral researchers and technicians to do the research and extension work, as well as toward the travel and equipment expenses.
“Grants like this allow our faculty, student, researchers and extension educators to do the critical work that supports growers in Michigan and across the country,” Douglas Buhler, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said. “Just as important, these grants allow our researchers to maintain their leadership roles in key areas.”
The team plans to determine which wild pollinators are important, determine effective habitat practices to improve crop production and deliver new methods of crop pollination for speciality crop producers, Isaacs said.