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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (cranberries)


  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife


    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.

    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.