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CRP and beekeeping

We’ve seen a drastic decline in bee populations over the past two decades. Causes include pesticide exposure, lack of suitable habitat for nesting and foraging, and parasites and pathogens.

The Conservation Reserve Program has an initiative called CP42 that can help establish more nesting and forage habitat for bees. It encourages the planting of wildflowers and legumes, with an emphasis on native species and plants that flower throughout the growing season.

Iowa State University Extension Entomologist Randall Cass says this can be planted as a large swath of prairie or in smaller patches adjacent to farmland, such as prairie strips. ISU research has shown more diversity and abundance of native bee species at prairie sites than at agricultural sites.

"Other research shows that hives, when they are taken from an area where it’s mostly agricultural production around them and moved to a site where there’s prairie present, they have a higher mass at the end of the season. So, they have more food stores, more nectar stored, more pollen stored and that’s important going into the winter," says Cass. "We also see a greater abundance of different pollinators."

The hives don’t have to be owned and tended by the landowner. Cass says the challenge is connecting those landowners with beekeepers.

"The easiest way is to go online and find their nearest beekeeper’s association or beekeeping organization. Whenever landowners inquire about ways to get bees on their land, I usually try to connect them with their nearest local beekeeping association in order to see if there’s anyone that’s interested in putting bees at their site," he says.