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Pollinators Support Agriculture Profitability

Nifa Authors
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor

Pollinators are essential to the environment, but they face a growing variety of stressors that impact their health, overall numbers and ability to effectively pollinate plants. 

Pollinators improve the quality and quantity of farmers’ crop yields, adding an estimated $18 billion in crop production revenue annually. While honey bees are the most common commercial pollinator in the U.S., pollinators also include birds, bats, lizards, rodents, moths, butterflies and other insects. Pollinators are vital to pollinating more than 100 commonly grown crops. Additionally, pollinators are crucial elements within healthy and biodiverse ecosystems. However, as significant pollinators are to our ecosystems, their numbers continue to decline. 

Pollinator species are at risk because of a variety of factors including a changing climate, pesticides, pathogens and land use change. With funding from a number USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture programs including both competitive and capacity programs, Land-grant Universities across the nation are working together to improve habitats and protect pollinators. 

Highlighted Efforts 

  • Trapping wild bees is essential to studying them. University of Arkansas researchers tested which colors — yellow, red or blue — worked best to attract bees to vane traps. Different light wavelengths and reflectivity influenced bee species capture rates, and blue vane traps captured the greatest diversity of species. These results can help optimize wild bee sampling methods and ultimately aid in conservation and management practices. Hatch funds supported this project in part. 
  • Cornell Extension educated communities about beneficial insects, especially ladybird beetles. The project included ladybird beetle releases in 10 New York counties. The project had economic, environmental and social/psychological benefits by reducing losses from insect pests, reducing the use of pesticides and providing an opportunity to have a positive interaction with beneficial insects. By engaging with diverse audiences and providing resources and tools for successful ladybird beetle management, the project helped promote the conservation and preservation of this important insect species. This outreach project was supported by Smith-Lever funds.  
  • University of Puerto Rico Agricultural Extension Service, collaborating with several partners organized the First Puerto Rico Pollinator Fair at the university’s botanical garden. Educational activities created awareness about the benefit that pollinators provide to food production and the importance of protecting pollinators and their habitat. Topics included Integrated Pest Management in farms and forests, the role of hummingbirds and bats as pollinators, edible gardens that attract pollinators, and how to establish pollinator gardens. This outreach effort was supported by Smith-Lever funds.  
  • Since 2022, a University of Vermont Extension pollinator program has worked with farmers to enhance understanding of pollinator habits and help implement practices that support pollinator health and habitat. With on-farm trials, they have identified cover crop varieties that support soil health while providing needed flowers and nectar for pollinators. This project was supported in part by Smith-Levers funds as well as other USDA competitive grants.
  • Mississippi State University is leading an effort to develop pollinator-friendly lawns for pollinators. This project, the Partnership for Pollinator Friendly Lawns in the Southeastern United States, aims to create and promote best management practices for sustainable turfgrass systems that support pollinator health. This work was supported by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. 
  • Montana State University researchers are investigating ways to reduce honey bee colony losses by understanding the effects of viruses on bee health.  Their goal is to reduce honey bee colony losses caused by virus infections by advancing the understanding of the effects of viruses on bee health and may lead to new strategies that minimize colony losses and improve colony health. This research is supported by Hatch funds. 
  • University of Minnesota Extension distributed Pollinator Educator Toolkits across 60 Minnesota counties, reaching an estimated 100,000 Minnesotans annually. More than 400 educators across the world have accessed the digital version of the Pollinator Education Toolkit, with an estimated annual reach of 180,000. The Pollinator Ambassadors Program for Gardens has reached educators and underserved audiences in more than 60% of the state’s counties.  This outreach effort was supported by Smith-Lever funds. 
  • Ohio State University research found that insecticides and spray adjuvants, common additives to pesticide applications, can cause harm to bees led to changes in production recommendations for almonds. The new recommendations resulted in a 70% reduction in insecticide use during almond bloom and pollination. Additionally, researchers demonstrated the importance of urban green spaces as habitat for urban bees. A season-long, citywide bee forage can be achieved by monthly mowing of vacant land. Weedy plants such as red clover and chicory as well as pocket prairies of native wildflowers in vacant lots can provide a high-quality habitat to support bee health and reproductive success. This work was supported by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.  
  • Penn State researchers are the first to demonstrate the role of agriculture as an evolutionary force acting on a wild insect pollinator and may have implications for food security. The project was supported by Hatch funds. 
Farm Bill Priority Areas
Animal health and production and animal products
U.S. States and Territories
New York
Puerto Rico

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