Farming for Native Bees

2015 Annual Report for SW14-011

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:

Farming for Native Bees


In mid-2014, in partnership with Western SARE, Principal Investigator Dr. Gordon Frankie began work on Farming for Native Bees, an innovative project that constructs and monitors high quality native bee habitats on farms in the Ventura County area in Southern California. The following report describes the objectives accomplished during the first grant period (August 2014-December 2014). This includes:

1. Changes made to research sites. These changes reflect the dynamic nature of farming operations, as well the many considerations involved in carrying out a research project.

2. Updates on monitoring efforts. Baseline data was collected at all sites, evidencing low abundance and diversity that we believe to be, at least in part, due to the ongoing drought.

3. Installation of native bee habitats on three sites, with immediate impacts on bee diversity.

4. Interviews with farm partners to collect data on farm operations and decision-making, especially as they relate to conservation practices like farming for native bees.

5. Targeted outreach to stakeholders in the form of presentations to the California Avocado Society and presentations to local high school students.

6. General outreach to diverse audiences across California. These outreach efforts were among the highlights of our work this year, far exceeding proposed objectives.

7. Updates on the Pollinator Habitat Advisor pilot project, which involved identifying similar programs and positions.

8. Evaluating our progress to date through an annual retreat and ongoing communications with farm partners.

Objectives/Performance Targets

*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)

1. Field Research

Research Sites

The project suffered several challenges in early in 2015, with a number of changes to our research sites. Thille Ranch will no longer participate in habitat installations but has two sites that will continue to be monitored as controls. There are no resources, including a consistent water supply, or people to assist with monitoring and maintenance of native bee habitats. Research at Leavens Ranch was discontinued as it employs heavy pesticide use, farm managers are hard to reach, and there is a conflicting research project being conducted on the Blue Orchard Bee.

While the McGrath Family Farm remains a key site for habitat installations and monitoring, it has undergone a significant reduction in size. When the project began, the farm consisted of ~80 acres. Phil McGrath has since leased a number of acres to hoop houses and is now farming only about 35 acres. These changes were made after bee habitats had already been installed, and plants had to be moved from the leased land to the farm land, resulting in unexpected expense and time investment.

One positive development was an invitation to work at Ellwood Canyon Farms, where baseline monitoring began in January of 2015. The orchard is an ideal site, with 300 acres of land; 160 of which is dedicated to avocados. The rest of the land has been left wild and will provide ample opportunity to monitor wild bees from natural areas and their impacts on adjacent cropland.

While these changes caused some setbacks, they are a very clear reflection of the many factors that influence project success, as well as the dynamic nature of California specialty crop farms. We have had similar experiences in Brentwood (Northern California), where we have been conducting this research for over five years. Ownership, crop composition, farm management, and weather patterns, among many other factors, have changed the shape of our research. These experiences have taught us to be flexible in our approach, to focus on building strong relationships with our farm partners, and to develop adaptive planning strategies that help farmers to maintain native bee habitats even as their operations shift.

Native Bee Monitoring

A second year of baseline data was collected on McGrath Family Farm and James Lloyd-Butler, LLC, and a first year of data was collected at Ellwood Canyon Farms in 2015. The goal of these collections is to measure increases in native bee populations when habitats are installed. A total of three trips were made to Ventura between April and the first part of May. Methods used to monitor native bee populations included pan traps and aerial collections. Collections were extremely sparse, however, and we suspect that low abundance and diversity of species were, in part, a result of the severe ongoing drought. In April, the region was hit by late spring rains, and abundance and diversity in the pan traps increased substantially at all sites. Significantly, there was not an increase in flowering (crop and weeds), which suggests that the presence of water triggers emergence for some bee species.

Habitat Development

Rows of 100 “bee-plants” (15-17 plant types), occupying approximately ½ acre, have been planted on each farm. Plantings at the McGrath Family Farm began in March and were expanded in May and September of 2015. Habitat plants are already flowering profusely and have had immediate impacts on wild bee abundance and diversity: collections made recently after the habitat was installed included a number of wild bees that were not present before planting. Installations began in mid-December at the Ellwood Canyon Farms, occupying a space in the middle of the property between the avocado orchard and the creek. We have found that creek beds are often favored nesting sites of numerous native bee species, and we are anxious to examine trends in populations at this site relative to the other sites. Plantings at James Lloyd-Butler, LLC were completed in early January of this year. The site had already been selected, tilled, and cleared of grass and brush to reduce risks of fire. Monitoring was also attempted in natural areas adjacent to the three farms; however, there was very little flowering, likely due to the drought. Specimens collected to date are being processed and prepared for identifications.

2. Economic Analysis

Our milestone for this year was to conduct interviews with our farm partners to shed light on farm operations, and how these influence decision-making, especially as it relates to adoption of conservation practices like farming for native bees. The interview questions dive deep on farmer perspectives of values and motivations, farm operations and management, decision-making, variables affecting crops and crop yields, importance of and risks to pollination services, and alternatives to honey bee pollination. Two 2-hour interviews have already been completed with Jim Lloyd-Butler and Phil McGrath, and we are working with Ellwood Canyon Farms managers at to schedule another interview for this year.

The interviews are based on similar interviews conducted in Brentwood, which are being compiled and analyzed for publication this year. The Ventura interviews will greatly expand our understandings of the great diversity of farm operations in California, and how these influence adoption of conservation practices.

3. Farmer/Agricultural Outreach

Three talks are scheduled for January that will bring project information directly to our key stakeholder group – avocado farmers. The talks will be part of the California Avocado Society’s 2016 seminar series (see attached program), which are held in collaboration with the California Avocado Commission and UC Cooperative Extension. The talks will reach a total of 300 growers in San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and Fallbrook.

We gave two talks to high school students at McGrath Family Farm, and we plan to build on these efforts over the next few years. It is interesting to note that such outreach activities are not possible on the other farms. The McGrath Family Farm has much in common with our partnering farms in Brentwood, with a large variety of crops. These small farms sell their products in diverse venues, including in on-farm stores and through CSAs. They have a vested interest in local outreach, and our work enhances their marketing strategies. Our partner avocado farms appear to operate differently, delivering their product directly to stores and have less interest in onsite education and outreach. Further, as the product is high-value, security is extremely tight on the avocado farms, with tall fences, movement sensors, and guards. Researchers can only go on certain days to monitor when there is a guard to let them in, and it makes for an unfriendly environment for local outreach.

Finally, we had been invited to give a talk to the California State Beekeepers Association, but follow-up on the talk was not made. We plan to reach out to them again this year to discuss the possibility of offering a presentation.

4. General Outreach

Our outreach and educational efforts have continued to feature strongly in our ongoing work, and far exceeded our goals for this year. We gave a total of 23 presentations, five hands-on workshops, and 11 garden tours providing general information on native bees and results from our various projects. We also presented our new book, California Bees and Blooms (Heyday 2014) at six author events, offered informational exhibits at seven events, and presented at nine major conferences. These reached over 5,300 people across California and beyond – well over three times as many people as we had projected. We also were interviewed for two radio shows with KZYX Mendocino Public Radio, whose estimated audience is approximately 2,000 per show. Please see attached for a full list of presentations conducted in 2015.

The Urban Bee Lab website is continually updated with project activities. Over the past year, our website received 37,934 visits (82% new and 18% returning to the site) from 149 countries. We also post activities and results in our bi-monthly newsletter, which now has over 840 members. Our Facebook page has nearly 1,000 followers.

Finally, we produced one peer-reviewed publication, “California Bee-Friendly Garden Recipes” (Pawelek, et al. 2015), for the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (see attached).

5. Pollinator Habitat Advisor (PHA)

A key objective for 2015 was to begin developing a set of job criteria for a PHA position. Our first step was to identify and review similar positions and/or programs. The only such position we have found to date is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS’) Technical Service Providers (TSPs), who support farmers in implementing conservation practices, such as the Pollinator Habitat Enhancement Plan.

What has arisen as a central concern as we gather more information about the TSP program is not the lack of information, resources, trainings and references for would-be TSPs, but rather, the number of TSPs available to assist farmers in integrating native bee farming into their operations. There are currently only three TSPs in California who are certified to offer support for farmers with this important conservation measure.

If there is anything that we have gained during our work with Brentwood farmers over the past five years, it is an appreciation for the sheer amount of work that farmers do, and the precarious juggling act in which they engage every day to balance the endless moving parts of their dynamic and complex farm operations. Some organizations working on native bee farming projects have attempted to address this issue by offering solutions that require little work on the part of the farmer, e.g., hedgerows and seeding wildflower mixes in fallowed areas. However, our research has led us to question whether these solutions produce meaningful impacts on crop pollination or on native bee conservation. Monitoring work on our experimental habitats indicates that

–Bee habitat flowering needs to match crop flowering

–Highly diverse and abundant habitats draw and support diverse and abundant native bee populations

–Some native bee species stand out as more efficient pollinators for some crop types, and habitats can modified to increase their populations

–Installing habitats in close proximity to crop flowers encourages crop pollination

–Land use patterns surrounding farms (e.g., wild areas vs. farms with diverse crops vs. monocultures) impact on-farm wild bee populations

–Providing nesting sites and resources, particularly where nearby natural areas are slim or non-existent may be important to increasing native bee populations

Assessments of overall farming operations further indicate that there is potential for integrating habitats more fully into dynamic agricultural landscapes. Rather than perimeter hedgerows and wildflower mixes in isolated patches of fallowed land, for example, we have been able to work with farmers to install habitats in diverse open spaces throughout their farms. We have also found that monitoring results – and providing farmers with evidence of these results both in the field and on paper – is essential to buy-in. It is not enough to insist that habitats are attracting bees. Farmers want to know that their investments are paying off, and to see it for themselves.

The technologies we are developing address all of these issues, and promise to attract and sustain wild pollinators in ways that other such technologies currently do not. However, they also require a larger investment of time and resources. Our work on the TSP program is based on the conviction that this conservation measure is important enough to merit its own set of “experts” to assist farmers in its implementation. Supporting this conviction is the fact that farmers engage a host of experts to help them implement a variety of programs and projects, from conservation measures like water efficiency and wildlife protection, to daily operations like pest controls and compost-building.

Our goals for the coming year are to understand why there are so few trained experts in this field, what the limitations are, and how these can be addressed. One possibility, for example, is that the training required for certification might actually be too rigorous, limiting the number of eligible candidates for the position. As native bee farming is a relatively new concept, “Pollinator Habitat Advisor” (PHA) is yet not recognized by most institutions as a career path, and thus they do not offer courses or specialized trainings for this position. It may also be that there is not enough demand for a highly specialized position.

Our proposed solution was to select candidates for our pilot training program, such as Pest Control and Farm Advisors, who already work with farmers, have some level of expertise, and could provide support for native bee farming as an additional service. However, after approaching some of these professionals, we have found that they are far too busy to take on another role (one Farm Advisor with whom we spoke works with 750 farmers). Some of these Advisors act as “gatekeepers” to the farming community, with long-term, trusted relationships with the farmers in their charge. Some level of training could be developed so that Advisors could advocate for the program and direct interested farmers to resources and PHAs.

Over the course of our research in both urban and agricultural areas, we have engaged numerous volunteers, including undergraduate students, community and botanic garden staff, nonprofit employees, landscape designers, and interested individuals. Although many of these individuals have had little formal plant and/or bee training, they have been able to develop key skills, such as basic plant and bee identification; monitoring protocols; habitat installation and maintenance; relationship-building with farmers; outreach and education; and supervision of volunteers and farmworkers, that could suffice to support farmers in implementing and maintaining native bee farming.

Based on these experiences, we are considering a different approach to developing PHA/TSP protocols and trainings that would allow a larger range of interested individuals, including on-farm employees such as farmworkers and managers, as well as extension specialists and conservationists, to become qualified. Over the next six months, we will begin identifying existing resources for our training program, such as books and courses, as well as gaps that need to be filled. A key component of this position would be education and outreach, with the idea that the PHAs themselves would contribute to educating farmers about native bee farming, and thus build demand for this kind of expertise. We will also begin to measure “willingness to pay” for this service among our own farmers, as well as evaluate the perceived usefulness of this position to Advisors and extension specialists in helping farmers to fulfill their EQIP requirements.

6. Project Evaluation

Researchers met in late October for a full-day retreat to discuss milestones and evaluate progress on all projects in relation to goals that had been set for this year. While there have been some divergences from expected outcomes for this year, including changes in research sites, for the most part it appears that the project is on track for timely completion. In some instances, such as in our outreach efforts, we far exceeded our stated objectives. As the project deals closely with farmers and involves dynamic farm operations, we expect the project to continue to shift over the next few years. While these shifts can sometimes challenge our research work, they allow us a first-hand experience of California farms and their conservation adoption practices.

It has been an ongoing challenge to schedule group meetings with the farmers, as they are perpetually busy with farm operations. However, we are in direct contact with them and consistently provide updates on project findings. They are directly involved in site selection, and have contributed labor and resources to installing and maintaining habitats. As in Brentwood, we expect their involvement – and input – to increase as we build relationships with them.


Accomplishments this year included:

1. Discovery of and partnership with the Ellwood Canyon Farms, which will provide an ideal research site

2. Successful installation of native bee habitats on three farms

3. General outreach and education, which far exceeded objectives for this year

We have also learned that our proposals were accepted to present our research at two of California’s major agricultural conferences: Organic Agriculture Research Symposium and California Small Farms Conference. These conferences will give us the opportunity to reach farmers across California with our important work.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Early last year, we developed a Farming for Native Bees poster (see attached), which we have used at presentations, as well as offered to our partner farmers. They were well-received by the farmers, several of whom have displayed them on their office walls and shared them with staff and customers. This positive reaction made us think about the effectiveness of various types of outreach and education. We have attempted numerous strategies in Brentwood, including offering written reports, providing abstracts of pertinent journal articles, workshops, and informal emails and in-person conversations. Over time, we have found that farmers rarely have time to read lengthy articles and manuals or to participate in workshops. Constant contact through emails and conversations are essential for building relationships, and project information can often be integrated. Visually interesting outreach materials, such as posters and flip booklet field guides, have great potential as outreach tools, as they collect key pieces of information into one piece that can be easily absorbed and shared.

We have also printed several large photographs of common native bee species (see attached). These beautiful, eye-catching photographs allow observers to see anatomical detail, including where pollen is collected. As opposed to boxes of specimens, in which multitudes of tiny bees are pinned side by side, these photos capture the imagination and, we expect, will inspire farmers to make a deeper connection to the project’s conservation goals.


Dr. Gordon Frankie

[email protected]
Project Team Leader
UC Berkeley
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720-3114
Office Phone: 5106420973
Dave Pommer

[email protected]
Farmer Team Member
Thille Ranch
14053 Foothill Rd.
Santa Paula, CA 93060-9733
Office Phone: 8058901419
Phil McGrath

[email protected]
McGrath Family Farm
1012 West Ventura Blvd.
Camarillo, CA 93010-8318
Office Phone: 8054854210
Sara Guerrero

[email protected]
Academic Researcher Team Member
UC Berkeley
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720-3114
Office Phone: 5106420973
Dr. Ben Faber

[email protected]
Extension Outreach Team Member
UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County
UC Cooperative Extension
669 County Square Dr., Suite 100
Ventura, CA 93003
Office Phone: 8056451462
Jaime Pawelek

[email protected]
Academic Researcher Team Member
UC Berkeley
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720-3114
Office Phone: 5106420973
Marylee Guinon

[email protected]
Economic Team Member
Marylee Guinon LLC
354 Bohemian Highway
Freestone, CA 95472
Office Phone: 9252604346
Dr. Robbin Thorp

[email protected]
Academic Researcher Team Member
UC Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616-8584
Office Phone: 5307520475
Will Carleton

[email protected]
Farmer Team Member
Las Palmitas Farm
4210 Upson Rd.
Carpinteria, CA 93013
Office Phone: 8055669571
James Lloyd-Butler

[email protected]
Farmer Team Member
James Lloyd-Butler Family LLC
2317 Los Angeles Ave.
Oxnard, CA 93036
Office Phone: 8056477649