Prairie strips for enhanced honey production: Can conservation improve apiculture?

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $248,659.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Matthew ONeal
Iowa State University


  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: honey


  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollinator habitat, pollinator health
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, prairie strips, Conservation Reserve Practice #43
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Efforts to counter wild bee declines and honey bee colony losses include adding native plants to improve floral resources. Landowners can use USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to help cover the cost of adding floral resources to farmland. Iowa is a key testing ground for novel practices that re-integrate native biodiversity into landscapes dominated by annual crops. Prairie strips (CP43) is a prime example of a CRP-funded practice that integrates modestly sized (5-7 acres) patches of native vegetation within commercial farms. This now nationwide practice was developed by ISU’s STRIPS project (Science Based Trails of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips; This practice prevents soil and nutrients (e.g. N, P, K) from leaving farms and entering watersheds, while increasing native flowering resources, pollinator abundance and diversity.

    By increasing floral resources, prairie strips could be an untapped resource for honey bees.  Recently, we observed that honey bees produced 24% more honey when kept at farms with prairie strips. This research was conducted at a scale of 2-4 honey beehives, so questions remain if larger-scale beekeeping is sustainable with prairie strips.  Preliminary data from 2021 suggest this is possible- 20 beehives placed at three commercial farms with established prairie strips produced honey at a rate consistent with our earlier work. The USDA allows colonies on CRP land to support more sustainable beekeeping, but it is unclear if beekeepers know of and use these small patches of native, flowering vegetation.  We will expand upon these preliminary data with collaboration from commercial beekeepers to determine the economic sustainability of commercial scale production at farms with prairie strips.  Consumer theory suggests that when a product is bundled with desirable attributes, it becomes more attractive. We will also investigate honey consumer’s demand for, and willingness to pay for honey produced at a farm with prairie strips.

    With collaboration from central Iowa beekeepers, we will explore if the prairie strip practice (CP43) consistently supports commercial-scale beekeeping. By expanding our initial research to include an economic assessment, we will determine if both the amount and source of honey produced can improve beekeeping. In other words, even if honey yield from a prairie strip site is not higher than what the beekeeper traditional observes, these sites could still be economically viable. Finally, to facilitate the use of land in CP43 we will produce a web-site to help landowners connect with beekeepers seeking new sites for their colonies.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We propose a 3-year study that will involve three objectives.

    Objective 1: Determine how productive commercial scale beekeeping is at farms with prairie strips.

    Objective 2: Economic analysis of beekeeping at prairie strips and estimate consumer value of prairie strip honey.

    Objective 3. Create a web-based platform for connecting beekeepers with landowners who have established prairie strips.

    Because our objectives around focused on both yield and value of honey, even if honey yield from a prairie strip site is not higher than what the beekeeper traditional observes, these sites could still be economically viable.

    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.