USDA has awarded Michigan State University $1.6 million to lead a national crop pollination research and Extension project.

The five-year program will focus on improving pollination and attracting bees to specialty farms and crops. It is part of the USDA’s $101 million initiative to support the nation’s specialty crop producers.

Rufus Isaacs, a professor in the Department of Entomology and AgBioResearch scientist, and his team will look at specialty crop pollination and develop region- and crop-specific Integrated Crop Pollination management approaches to diversify pollination sources and maintain consistent crop yields. These may include honey bees, wild bees and alternative managed bees such as bumble bees. They will also examine adding habitat for bees to provide food for the bees when crops are not in bloom. Inclusion of economics and social science components will help make the results more relevant to real-world farming situations.

There are many variables when it comes to growing specialty crops in Michigan and around the country, and the weather isn’t the only one. Specialty fruit, tree and nut growers also need the help of some small workers – pollinators, or bees, Isaacs said.

“We are excited to receive this funding and to start this project that we hope will benefit the production of these crops that support the health of our nation,” he said. “Increasingly, people are consuming more fruits, vegetables and nuts, and these all depend on pollination. As demand increases, it will be essential that growers have the tools needed to ensure they can continue to supply this demand.”

This project will help design farms and management systems so farmers can maximize crop yields, added Isaacs, who also works with MSU Extension as a specialist.

The team’s findings will support long-term sustainability of U.S. specialty crops by increasing growers’ ability to better manage pollinators for improved crop yield. They will develop recommendations on how to manipulate farm landscapes to support native bee and honey bee populations, by working with almonds in California, cherries in Michigan, pumpkins in Pennsylvania, blueberries in Florida and others.