USDA awards MSU $6.9 million grant to help bees

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded $6.9 million to Michigan State University to develop sustainable pollination strategies for specialty crops in the United States.

Rufus Isaacs, MSU AgBioResearch entomologist and MSU Extension specialist

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded $6.9 million to Michigan State University to develop sustainable pollination strategies for specialty crops in the United States.

“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,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “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, which produces the fruits, vegetables and nuts recommended by USDA for a healthy diet.”

The research and outreach efforts being supported by this grant will provide growers with information on pollination, pollinators and management practices that will keep their crops productive year after year, he added.

The grant was funded through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, part of the 2014 Farm Bill that was signed at MSU.

Rufus Isaacs, MSU AgBioResearch entomologist and MSU Extension specialist, will lead the project with the goal of developing and delivering context-specific integrated crop pollination recommendations on how to effectively harness the potential of native bees for crop pollination.

“This next stage of funding is essential for continuing the work of the team of more than 50 people across the nation who are all dedicated to the goals of our project,” Isaacs said. “We have established and measured bees and crop yields in over 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. We will continue to monitor these fields and compare the performance, economics and social aspects of these tactics, while we also continue development of educational and decision-support information for specialty crop pollination.”

These ICP strategies are designed to improve long-term sustainability of U.S. specialty crops and help ensure the continued ability of growers to reap profitable returns from their investments in land, plants and other production inputs.

Isaacs and the team will:

  • Identify economically valuable pollinators and the factors affecting their abundance
  • Develop habitat management practices to improve crop pollination
  • Determine performance of alternative managed bees as specialty crop pollinators
  • Demonstrate and deliver ICP practices to specialty crops growers
  • Determine optimal methods for ICP information delivery and measure ICP adoption
  • Analyze economics and modeling of pollination ecosystem services

MSU first received a SCRI grant for $1.7 million to begin this work in fiscal year 2012, the final year of the 2008 Farm Bill. This grant will continue and build upon that research to ensure that specialty crop growers are better able to manage pollinators for improved crop yields.

MSU’s 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, Simon Fraser University,Wenatchee Valley College, Oregon State University, Rutgers University, USDA-ARS Pollination Insects Research Unit, AgPollen LLC., the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and a private company -- Pacific Pollination. The project also includes a large number of collaborating farmers providing in-kind support such as their land for conducting the research, and a diverse advisory board of stakeholders.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit

MSU AgBioResearch engages in innovative, leading-edge research that combines scientific expertise with practical experience to generate economic prosperity, sustain natural resources and enhance the quality of life in Michigan, the nation and the world. It encompasses the work of more than 300 scientists in seven MSU colleges - Agriculture and Natural Resources, Arts and Letters, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science, Social Science and Veterinary Medicine - and has a network of 13 research centers across the state.

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