Farming for Native Bees

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $247,649.48
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: UC Berkeley
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apples, apricots, avocados, berries (other), cherries, citrus, melons, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries), general tree fruits
  • Vegetables: artichokes, beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, greens (leafy), parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: cover crops, fallow
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agricultural finance, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Honey bee pollination services account for $14.6 billion (2000) of the U.S. agricultural economy. As 30% of U.S. food crops depend on bee pollination (Nabhan & Buchmann 1997; National Academy of Sciences 2007), the implications of ongoing declines are of growing concern, particularly as Colony Collapse Disorder continues to claim over 30% of managed honey bee hives per year. Recent research has begun to explore the potential of native bees to supplement pollination services. However, more is needed to quantify the impacts of native bee farming in diverse agricultural systems and regions, identify methods to encourage the best native bees for specific crops, and engage farmers in implementation.  Based on 13 years of research on California bee-plant relationships, Farming for Native Bees is a partnership between biologists, conservation professionals, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), USDA-NRCS and small farmers that explores the environmental, economic and social impacts of introducing high quality native bee habitat. Long-term goals are to: *Provide a stable, cost-effective and sustainable supplement to honey bees *Conserve native bees *Educate Californians about native bees and their role in agriculture *Strengthen reciprocal partnerships between farmers, academics, outreach specialists and agricultural professionalsInitiated by one small farmer in Brentwood (northern California) in 2010, Farming for Native Bees has already produced exceptional results: native bee populations have more than tripled (106 species have been recorded); preliminary information on the best habitat compositions for specific crop types is being developed; and six additional farmers have joined the project. Farmers are assisting with local outreach, developing and distributing educational materials and hosting workshops. With funding from national and state level NRCS-Conservation Innovation Grants (NRCS-CIG), the project is producing an NRCS technical field guide, training modules that guide farmers in the process of integrating native bee farming into their farming operations, and peer-reviewed and popular publications. Funding from Western SARE will replicate this work in Ventura County (southern California), where agriculture is a major contributor to the local economy and many crops are bee-dependent or -enhanced. Team members will collaborate to construct and monitor native bee habitat on four small farms and compare them with four control sites. Unique features include: an assessment of wild bees in adjacent natural areas; development of crop-specific guidelines for native bee habitat; an economic analysis that collects financial, crop yields, and other data, placing pollination services in the context of overall operational costs and farm management; and development and testing of a new Pollinator Habitat Advisor (PHA) position to advise and assist in the management of native bee habitat.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    *Construct high quality native bee habitat on four avocado farm sites in Ventura County (enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base)
    *Measure increases in diversity and abundance of native bee species on treatment sites (we expect to at least triple current populations) and compare with four control sites (enhance environmental quality and natural resource base) *Quantify impacts of introduced habitat, particularly its potential to supplement crop pollination (economic viability) *Develop prescriptive treatments identifying the most important native bee species and the plant types and nesting materials that attract them for selected crop types (integrate natural biological cycles)
    *Reach an additional 1,500 people per year with project information through at least 15 annual invited talks and five workshops
    *Present in at least two major conferences per year, including the EcoFarm, Small Farm Conference, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) annual conferences
    *Survey native bee populations inhabiting nearby natural areas and assess their potential impact on crop pollination *Train farmer team members and farmworkers to identify and monitor native bees and share knowledge about habitat construction and maintenance, taking farmer concerns (such as pest management, costs vs. benefits, and labor and resource requirements) into consideration
    *Conduct an economic analysis that assesses farmer knowledge, beliefs, values and priorities in relation to crop pollination and how these impact management and financial decisions in the context of overall farming operations (economic viability)
    *Educate and transfer technologies (i.e., native bee habitat management) to ~300 local farmers, agricultural professionals and other interested citizens through a series of workshops and presentations
    *Develop and distribute targeted educational materials, including brochures, a flip booklet field guide of native bees and web and Facebook pages for farmers and agricultural professionals
    *Develop and test a new PHA position, and evaluate farmers’ “willingness to pay” for PHA services
    *Publish at least two peer-reviewed and two extension articles (California Agriculture and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ 8000 Series on pollinators have invited publications)

    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.