On-farm conservation of native bees: Understanding the barriers to implementation and assessing viability in WI cranberry

Final Report for GNC10-120

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,970.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Claudio Gratton
University of Wisconsin, Dept. Entomology
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Project Information


A written survey of Wisconsin cranberry growers found that although only 10% of growers were aware of federal cost-share programs for pollinator conservation, a third of them already manage habitat for pollinators without federal aid and 50% were interested in participating in the programs. Fifty-seven percent of growers manage habitat for wildlife, although none receive cost-share funding to do so either. Participation in federal cost-share programs could benefit from promotion of the programs, a reduction in bureaucratic hurdles required for participation, and an increase in technical support available to growers on how to manage habitat for native bees.


Wisconsin is the number one producer of cranberries in the United States producing more than 50% of the nation’s cranberry crop (NASS 2010). The Wisconsin cranberry industry supports 7200 jobs statewide and contributes $350 million to the state economy each year, making it the top fruit crop in the state (WSCGA). Cranberry, a pollinator dependent crop, will not produce fruit without pollination. As a result, growers spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to rent bee hives for pollination. Historically, farmers have relied upon one species, the non-native honey bee Apis mellifera for their pollination requirements. In recent years, however, honey bee colonies have experienced drastic declines as a result of mites, disease, and the recent emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) (Ellis et al. 2010, Stokstad 2007). As honey bee colonies become weaker and more scarce, rental prices have increased, burdening growers with higher costs to produce a crop (Berenbaum 2007). As CCD continues to spread and devastate honey bee colonies, farmers may need to seek alternative ways of pollinating their crops.

Native bees provide valuable pollination services (Losey and Vaughn 2006, Winfree et al. 2008) but have been largely overlooked by the farming community. Furthermore, native bees are at risk of decline due to habitat fragmentation, intensified agriculture, and agri-chemical exposure (Kearns et al. 1998, Kremen & Ricketts 2000, Kremen et al. 2002, Klein et al. 2007, Potts et al. 2010). Since cranberries are dependent on insect pollination to produce fruit, cranberry production is especially vulnerable to pollinator declines. While most cranberry growers import honey bees for pollination, previous research has shown that native bees are more efficient pollinators of cranberry than honey bees (Cane and Schiffhauer 2003). To date, 44 species of native bees have been documented pollinating cranberry (Cane et al. 1996, Delaplane & Mayer 2000, Free 1993, Mackenzie & Averill 1995, Stubbs & Drummond 1997) and nearly 200 species have been documented in the Wisconsin cranberry system (Gaines-Day 2013). Native bees alone are able to provide sufficient pollination in some cranberry bogs in Ontario, Canada (Mohr and Kevan 1987), and this may also be possible in Wisconsin (Evans and Spivak 2006).

One way for growers to protect native bee populations and harness their pollination services is through the implementation of on-farm conservation practices (e.g., Morandin and Kremen 2013). The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through the U.S. Farm Bill provides funding for growers to install “pollinator habitat”. By creating pollinator habitat, growers increase nesting and floral resources needed by native bees to persist in the landscape. However, participation in this program among Wisconsin cranberry growers is very low - only three growers in the state signed up for the program in 2008 and still have yet to install the plantings (Julie Ammel, pers. comm.). The reasons for the low adoption rate are unknown, but may be due to concerns about weed pressure, lack of awareness about the federal programs, or lack of information regarding native bees. Because of their high acceptance of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to minimize environmentally damaging practices (~80% of growers have adopted IPM practices, Dan Mahr, pers. comm.) and their dependence on pollinators, the Wisconsin cranberry growers are an ideal group for native pollinator protection.

There have been a number of previously funded SARE projects on the topic of on-farm conservation of native bees which have focused on measuring the results of bee conservation efforts (e.g. GNC07-086, FNC98-209), creating educational material for growers (e.g. ONE07-077, LNC08-297), and making management recommendations (e.g. LNE07-261, SW08-056). While we know that on-farm pollinator conservation plantings promote native pollinator abundance and diversity (e.g. GNC07-086), the transfer of this knowledge into farmer participation has been ineffective to date. With the support of this grant, I plan to go beyond the scope of these previous studies and investigate the barriers in awareness, attitude, and feasibility that currently prevent on-the-ground implementation of on-farm pollinator conservation. Additionally, I will participate in grower education and outreach efforts. The results of my research will help university and agency personnel re-direct research and education efforts to address the concerns of the growers and identify ways to improve farmer participation rate.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project is to inform future outreach activities to increase cranberry grower awareness regarding on-farm conservation of native bees. The target audience for this proposal is the Wisconsin cranberry grower community. While individual growers are ultimately responsible for their farm management decisions, informed research and policy will help direct more sustainable and environmentally sound farming practices. Additional audiences that will benefit from this project are the organizations, institutions, and agencies that conduct outreach and inform policy related to the sustainable production of pollinator-dependent crops. 

The expected short-term outcome of this project is to provide growers with increased knowledge about native bees, an ability to identify native bees from non-bee insects, and a general understanding of the resource requirements of native bees. I will achieve this outcome by creating an informational pamphlet for growers and presenting at the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association Annual Cranberry School (“Cranberry School”).

The expected intermediate-term outcome, resulting from a written survey of growers, is a better understanding of the barriers preventing the participation in on-farm pollinator conservation cost-share programs. I expect to gain a better understanding of why native bee conservation practices are not currently being put into practice, which will enable the non-grower research and policy community to make more effective decisions and policies to promote pollinator conservation. In addition, through outreach and education efforts, I expect growers to adopt management practices that minimize negative impacts on native bees, including providing increased seasonal floral availability on and around cranberry marshes and adopting bee-friendly irrigation and spray schedules.

This project is expected to lead to the long-term outcome of wide-spread implementation of pollinator habitat conservation and the prioritization of native bee protection in all farm management practices in Wisconsin cranberry. This would include management activities ranging from pest management to the creation of new marshes. While this outcome may not be realized in the short duration of this project, the proposed activities will support the development of a long-term sustainable pollination management plan for cranberry growers.


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  • Dr. Claudio Gratton


Materials and methods:

Grower survey

We created a 50-question written survey regarding current farming practices, pollination, on-farm conservation, and demographics (Appendix 1). The survey was reviewed by several cranberry growers, conservation professionals, and extension professors to ensure clarity and completeness. Questions were added, removed, or edited based on feedback from these groups. The survey was then sent to the University of Wisconsin Survey Center for review of question structure to ensure interpretability. The final survey was mailed to every cranberry grower on the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association (WSCGA) mailing list (n=250) in June of 2011. Due to confidentiality policies, the list was not shared with us, rather the surveys were delivered to the WSCGA office and the office staff addressed the envelopes. A cover letter explaining the purpose of the survey and a stamped addressed return envelope were included in the mailing. A reminder post-card was sent to the same recipients one week following the initial mailing.

Statistical analysis

The results of this survey were summarized using both descriptive statistics and classification and regression tree (CART) analysis (R 2.15.1, library rpart). Descriptive statistics were used to determine the frequency of responses to survey questions. CART analysis was used to determine which factors were most important in predicting the response of growers to specific questions regarding active management of habitat for native bees; alteration of management to protect native bees; interest in managing for native bees; management of habitat for wildlife; and interest in participating in a conservation incentives program to create habitat for native bees. A CART model analysis is a non-parametric method used in order to determine which factors are most important in predicting values of another factor (De’ath and Fabricius 2000, Chang and Wang 2006). For factors with discrete variable (e.g., yes/no responses) the classification tree is used rather than a regression tree. All other survey questions except the one designated as the predicted variable were included as possible predictors in the CART model. The results of this analysis help us identify factors which classify growers into groups with similar responses to a given question. For example, if interest levels in conservation of native bees is grouped by county but participation is low in a county where interest is high, extension activities can focus on providing information and technical support to growers in that county. By understanding which factors best predict current management or interest by growers, future extension and outreach efforts can be better directed to address both the desired conservation outcomes and the factors contributing to why the growers decide to participate in on-farm conservation.

Research results and discussion:

Survey response rate and demographics

The response rate to our survey was high (49% of surveys returned, n=122). Survey responses came from growers representing a broad range of geographic locations and demographics. Growers responded from 13 counties which represented both the central and northern growing regions in the state. Forty-four percent of responses were from Wood County which has the highest density of cranberry growers in the state. The average age of respondents was 45-54 years old and the average length of time they had been growing cranberries was 24.5 years (±1.15 SD, median 23, range 4-77). The average property size was 1,115 acres (±159 SD, median 450, range 11-11,000) including 50-149 acres in cranberry production. In addition, 84% of respondents indicated that growing cranberries is their primary source of income.

Management practices for native bees

Despite a lack of participation in pollinator habitat cost-share programs among cranberry growers (0%), 33% of growers actively manage habitat (e.g., plant flowering shrubs and trees, provide artificial nest boxes, provide brush piles and mattresses for nesting) for wild bees without outside assistance from a USDA program. Additionally, 30% reported that they have altered their management in some other way (e.g., reduced-risk pesticides, timing of spray, delayed mowing of dikes) to encourage wild bees on their property. The three factors that were most often selected as very or extremely important in growers’ decision to manage for bees were (1) the importance of pollination for cranberries, (2) environmental stewardship, and (3) knowledge about pollinator habitat (Appendix 2, Fig. 1). Of the growers who do not manage for native, wild bees, the most important factors influencing their decision were (1) the importance of pollination for cranberries, (2) the availability of technical support, and (3) time commitment. The results of our CART analysis showed that the most important predictor of whether growers manage habitat for native bees was whether they had also altered their other management practices (e.g., delayed mowing of weedy flowers) to encourage wild bees. Of the respondents who manage habitat for bees, 56% of them have also altered their management in some other way. The next best predictor variable was whether or not the grower manages habitat for other wildlife. Of those who manage habitat for bees, 51% also manage habitat for wildlife. Regardless of whether or not the growers manage for wild bees, 87% responded that bees are very or extremely important to cranberry pollination and 89% reported that they currently rent honey bees for pollination.

The best predictor of whether growers alter their management in any way other than habitat management to protect bees (e.g., timing of spray, use of reduced toxicity pesticides) was whether they manage habitat for bees. The next best predictor was how important they rated “environmental stewardship”. Forty-one percent of growers who alter their management for wild bees rated environmental stewardship as very/extremely important in their decision to manage for bees. These results show that growers who manage habitat for wildlife and value environmental stewardship are more likely to manage habitat for bees or alter their management in other ways to protect bees.

Management of wildlife habitat

To understand further how growers perceive on-farm conservation in general, we asked a series of questions regarding management of habitat to protect wildlife. We found that 57% of growers actively manage habitat for the specific goal of protecting wildlife, although none are receiving cost-share funding to do so. The factors that were most often selected as very or extremely important in influencing a grower’s decision to manage wildlife habitat were (1) knowledge about wildlife habitat, (2) knowledge of wildlife, environmental stewardship, and recreation such as hunting or hiking equally tied for second, and (3) time commitment (Appendix 2, Fig. 2). Of the growers who do not manage for wildlife habitat, the most important factors in their decision making was (1) time commitment, (2) financial commitment, and (3) perceived pest problems from wildlife habitat. The CART analysis further indicated that the most important predictor variable for whether or not growers manage habitat to protect wildlife was how important they rated outdoor recreation (e.g., hunting, camping). Of those who manage habitat, 55% also rated recreation as very/extremely important. Of those who did not rate recreation as important, the next most important predictor variable was the number of years the grower had been growing cranberries. Thirty-two percent of growers who manage habitat for wildlife have been growing cranberries for more than 28.5 years whereas only 13% have been growing cranberries for less than 28.5 years.

These results suggest that growers who manage for wildlife have knowledge of wildlife and their habitat requirements, a strong environmental stewardship ethic and interest in outdoor recreation. While they acknowledge the time commitment as an important factor, the other factors outweigh the time commitment. These results further suggest that the perceived time and financial commitment, in addition to possible pest problems, cause some growers to not manage wildlife habitat on their farm. Growers who value outdoor recreation are most likely to also manage wildlife habitat but of those who don’t value recreation as highly, the growers who have been farming for a longer period of time are more likely to manage wildlife habitat.

Participation in conservation incentives programs

Thirty-one percent of respondents indicated that they currently or have previously participated in USDA-sponsored conservation incentives programs including EQIP (22%), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP, 8%), the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP, 2%), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP, 2%). Growers were, however, split on whether they would participate in conservation incentives programs in the future, and more were unlikely to participate in a USDA-sponsored program (36%) than a non-USDA-sponsored program (26%). We also found that the most important factors determining whether a grower participated in a conservation incentives program were (1) the amount of paperwork, (2) time commitment, and (3) financial commitment (Appendix 2, Fig. 3). Of the growers who did not participate in conservation incentive programs, the most important factors influencing their decision were (1) amount of paperwork, (2) time commitment and environmental stewardship equally, and (3) awareness of the programs.

While none of the respondents participate in an incentives program for pollinator habitat, and only 10% are aware that such programs exist, 50% of growers would be interested in participating. A CART analysis indicated that the most important predictor variable for whether or not growers are interested in participating in a cost-share program to install pollinator habitat on their property was their interest in managing habitat for bees in the future. The next best predictor variable was whether the grower responded positively to the usefulness of an informational pamphlet about USDA conservation incentives programs for wild bees. The final predictor variable was how important the respondent rated beauty or landscaping in their decision process. Of the 2% of respondents who rated beauty and landscaping as “extremely important”, none were interested in managing habitat for bees in the future, possibly because of a perception that this habitat would be unattractive.

These results suggest that the amount of paperwork and time commitment were enough to discourage many growers from participating in the programs despite the importance of environmental stewardship to these growers.

Sources of management information for growers

In order to address the findings above, extension and outreach efforts must reach the growers. By understanding which sources of information growers’ use or want to use, extension efforts can be more effective by communicating to growers through these channels. Currently, the most common sources of information are paper newsletters (90%), crop scouts (82%), and the annual meeting of the WSCGA (Cranberry School, 81%). In the future, growers are interested in using email listservs (38%) in addition to paper newsletters (36%), and crop scouts (35%). We also collected information on sources the growers do not want to use in the future with the top three being social networking sites (85%), automatic text message alerts (61%), and email listservs (44%). This information is also useful so that extension and outreach is not misdirected to these sources to disseminate information.


Despite their demonstrated commitment to environmental stewardship, participation in pollinator habitat cost-share programs by Wisconsin cranberry growers is very low. Through a written survey of Wisconsin cranberry growers, we found that awareness of pollinator habitat incentives programs is also very low. Despite the lack of participation in formal conservation programs, a third of growers are currently managing habitat for pollinators anyway. These same growers were also more likely to manage habitat for wildlife. Growers who were not managing habitat for bees or wildlife were deterred by a lack of technical support, and the perceived time and financial commitments. This suggests that outreach and extension efforts should focus both on promoting pollinator habitat incentives programs as well as providing information and technical support to growers interested in creating pollinator habitat.

The most striking finding in our survey was that, despite a lack of participation in the cost-share programs for pollinator habitat, a third of Wisconsin cranberry growers are managing habitat for wild bees anyway. These management activities included delaying mowing of non-crop areas until cranberry was in bloom, planting flowers and trees that bloom throughout the season, and providing nesting habitat such as brush piles and bare soil. More than half of the growers surveyed also manage habitat for wildlife, yet none received cost-share funding to do so. The growers who managed habitat for wildlife were more likely to value outdoor recreation such as hunting or had been growing cranberries for many years. Wisconsin cranberry growers appear to be motivated more by their commitment to environmental stewardship or an appreciation of the outdoors than by financial incentives despite the cost of habitat management. Similar to our results, Banack and Hvenegaard (2010) found that farmers who participated in biodiversity-friendly farming practices were most commonly motivated by a moral obligation to care for the environment over economic factors. The goal of on-farm conservation is to provide habitat in agricultural landscapes to protect and enhance biodiversity. While financial incentives programs are one way to motivate growers to provide this habitat, appealing to their sense of environmental stewardship may be an equally strong and effective way to increase the conservation of non-crop habitat on farms.

The minimal participation in conservation incentives programs by Wisconsin cranberry growers seems to be due mainly to an aversion to bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of awareness of the programs rather than lack of interest. Lemke et al. (2010) also found that farmers were discouraged from participating in conservation practices on their farms because of the complexity of paperwork involved. In Michigan, where adoption of the pollinator habitat programs has been high, the key to success has been active promotion of the programs (Eric Mader, pers. comm.) as well as good financial incentives of up to a 90% cost-share (FSA 2010). In other regions of the country and the world, successful implementation of conservation programs has been a result of engaged conservation professionals developing personal relationships with the farmers and promoting the benefits of conservation through workshops and one-on-one assistance (Mendham et al. 2007, Lemke et al. 2010, Whitten et al. 2012). Currently in Wisconsin, minimal technical support is available for growers interested in participating in on-farm pollinator conservation practices, although interest in promoting these programs is growing at the state level (J. Ammel, pers. comm.).

This study highlights four key areas that can be addressed to increase participation in cost-share programs aimed at creating habitat. First, the specific programs and practices intended for pollinator conservation need to be promoted in Wisconsin. Only a small percentage of cranberry growers were aware of the programs, although half of the growers were interested in participating in a cost-share program for pollinator habitat. Since 80-90% of the cranberry growers get their management information from industry newsletters, crop scouts, and Cranberry School, these would be appropriate outlets through which to promote conservation programs.

Second, the paperwork required by the growers to participate in these programs needs to be reduced. Lowering the bureaucratic hurdles to participation would greatly reduce the time commitment and make participation easier. In order to participate in USDA-sponsored conservation incentives programs, growers have to go through a long, bureaucratic process of determining eligibility through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), developing conservation plans, selecting appropriate programs and practices, and submitting proposals to the FSA through the NRCS (USDA 2013). On top of all of the paperwork already required by the growers regarding application of pesticides, water use, and permits for marsh renovation and expansion, additional paperwork can discourage growers from participating in cost-share programs (Lemke et al. 2010). Streamlining the process by reducing the amount of paperwork could have a big impact on participation.

Third, creating pollinator habitat may seem overwhelming because of the knowledge required for establishing and maintaining native plants. There is a need for technical support to design and implement conservation plans that include pollinator habitat (Traoré et al. 1998, White and Selfa 2013), but without a person available to direct the growers, answer their questions, and provide practical on-the-ground solutions, few growers will attempt to install pollinator habitat. Several informational pamphlets and job sheets exist to help growers plan their pollinator planting (Vaughan and Mader 2008, Vaughan and Skinner 2008, Vaughan et al. 2012), but with many farmers without high speed internet (Volenberg and Jensen 2010) accessing these resources is difficult.

And finally, NRCS program administrators should establish a peer-mentoring program to connect growers who are currently managing pollinator habitat with growers who are interested in managing pollinator habitat. Sixty-four percent of growers indicated that they get information regarding management practices from their neighbors and friends, suggesting that peer mentoring could be an effective way to increase participation. Providing growers with an example of an established pollinator habitat planting and connecting them with a grower who has gone through the process has the potential to increase the success of interested growers while reducing the demand put on agency personal to address every concern from new participants. Although it is beyond the scope of this research project, further thought and development will need to be given to create incentives for growers acting as mentors to be part of the program.  

In order to make it easier for growers to manage habitat for pollinators and participate in cost-share programs to do so, we need to promote the available programs, simplify the process, provide direction, and encourage peer mentorship. These steps have the potential to greatly increase participation among Wisconsin cranberry growers as well as other pollinator-dependent fruit crops. Without these steps, the incentive programs for pollinator habitat will likely continue struggling to gain participants. By following the steps outlined above, we can make it easier for farmers to participate and show that on-farm conservation is a priority to the USDA.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Thesis and publications

Gaines-Day, H. (2013). Do bees matter to cranberry? The effect of bees, landscape, and local management on cranberry yield. (Doctoral dissertation) University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI. (ProQuest/UMI 3605939).

Gaines-Day, H. and C. Gratton (in prep) Understanding the barriers to implementation of on-farm habitat conservation for native bees in Wisconsin cranberry

Education and outreach

Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association Cranberry School, “Cranberry pollination”, oral presentation and grower panel, Stevens Point, WI, January 2012.

Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association Cranberry School, “Native pollinators in cranberry: An update”, Stevens Point, WI, January 2014.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The goal of this project was to collect information from the growers in order to understand the barriers that prevent them from participating in on-farm conservation programs. Our hope is that this information will inform the decisions made at the state level to make participation in pollinator conservation programs easier for the growers. At this point, the results of our survey have been sent to Jimmy Bramblett, the Wisconsin State Conservationist at NRCS and have been shared with University extension faculty, the leadership of the WSCGA, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Farmer Adoption

The focus of this project was to gain an understanding of grower awareness and attitudes towards on-farm conservation projects in order to inform future efforts to increase participation in cost-share pollinator conservation programs. As a result, this project was not aimed to increase farmer adoption of new technologies or production methods. At the conclusion of this project, several additional cranberry growers have expressed interest in installing pollinator habitat, however none have yet implemented the projects (J. Ammel, pers. comm.).

Through this project, we have reached nearly all cranberry growers in Wisconsin as most are members of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association and therefore received our written survey in the mail. One hundred twenty two growers actively participated in the survey. Outreach and research presentations reached approximately 200 individuals involved with the cranberry industry both in 2012 and 2014 at the WSCGA Cranberry School. The Cranberry School is attended by the growers, farm managers, and other people involved with cranberry production, promotion, extension, and research. Four growers participated in a grower panel that we organized at Cranberry School 2012 regarding pollination practices on their farms.

Based on the results of our survey, Wisconsin cranberry growers, in general, seem to have a high appreciation for pollinators and an interest in learning how to promote native bees on their farms. Although specific recommendations still need to be developed, cranberry growers should provide as many non-crop flowering resources as they are able including delaying mowing the dikes until cranberry is in bloom, spray only when bees are not active, and choose chemicals that are the least toxic to bees.


Areas needing additional study

One component of the original proposal which we were unable to complete was monitoring the demonstration pollinator habitat planting that was being installed at a commercial cranberry marsh in central Wisconsin. Due to factors outside of our control, the planting was unsuccessful and the plants did not establish as expected (i.e., major weed problems). Therefore, one area that requires further attention and study is the practical, step-by-step installation and care of pollinator habitat in the context of a commercial cranberry marsh. As a perennial crop with high water demands at certain times of the season, cranberry is a unique system and requires a unique approach to creating pollinator habitat since areas of the field cannot simply be set-aside for pollinator habitat. Future efforts should focus on developing a protocol including plant lists, installation timelines, and a management activity checklist for commercial cranberry growers to follow in order to create high quality pollinator habitat that does not interfere with cranberry production. The results of our grower study clearly demonstrate an interest among Wisconsin cranberry growers to provide pollinator habitat. The next step is providing clear directions for them to create the pollinator habitat.


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.