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Reserve program money targeted to support bee habitat

GRAND FORKS – For the past couple of years, Kathy Monda has had to work harder to keep her bees pleased.

Monda and her husband, Gaylord, have run Monda Honey Farm near East Grand Forks, Minn., since 1979. But Kathy Monda said the contracts for many acres of Conservation Reserve Program land they use for beekeeping have expired, forcing them to seek out other farmers and landowners who will let them use land.

Monda said CRP land was great for the bees to forage on because it was a good source of alfalfa and clover, both of which are pollinated by bees. Clover is also a major source of nectar for bees, which they then turn into honey.

“All this nice CRP land our bees have gotten lots of honey off of is getting tilled up again, so we’ve lost a lot of CRP land to put our bees on,” she said.

In the face of these losses, the Mondas and other area beekeepers and farmers should be able to gain back some bee-friendly land thanks to a new source of funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

North Dakota and Minnesota are two of five states receiving a combined $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program incentives to protect declining honey bee populations.

The money, offered to North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan, is available for farmers and ranchers who create new honey bee habitat. The five states are responsible for half of the nation’s commercially managed honey bees during the summer.

The funding for new habitat comes at a good time. In addition to the land losses faced by area beekeepers, honey bee populations across the U.S. are also struggling. Since 1947, the number of managed colonies has declined from 6 million to 2.5 million.

“As the No. 1 honey producing state, North Dakota producers know how important it is to have a healthy population of pollinators,” Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a news release.

In 2012, North Dakota produced more than 34 million pounds of honey worth more than $64 million.

Will Nissen, president of the North Dakota Beekeepers Association, said clover, alfalfa and other flowering plants common to CRP land are vital to sustaining bee populations, and he hopes the funding will lead to more flowers being planted.

“There are just not a lot of the natural flowers growing like there used to be,” he said.

Nissen said much of the CRP land loss was due to the fact that owners could earn more money per acre renting it out to farm crops than to leave it preserved to grow grasses, clover and alfalfa. However, when the land is tilled to plant crops, bee habitat is destroyed.

The announcement of the CRP funds coincides with National Pollinator Week, which the U.S. Department of Interior designated as June 16-22 of this year to advertise the importance of honey bees to agriculture and the ecosystem.

In addition to the $8 million available through the CRP incentive, the USDA also designated $3 million earlier to the Midwest states to support bee populations. The money was made available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program.