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Farmers, colleges up their games to reverse honeybee decline in Minnesota

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Minnesota is stepping up its game to reverse the worrying decline in honeybee numbers across the state.

Recent figures show that more than half of the managed honeybee colonies in Minnesota were lost over the past year, reflecting a national trend that has raised concerns over the potentially cataclysmic effect on the U.S. food supply.

But with the issue gaining more exposure, it is prompting more involvement in bee conservation across the state, as concerned parties do what they can to boost numbers where a combination of disease, insecticides and poor nutrition is causing them to fall.

MPR reports that some of the state's farmers have been taking part in a U.S. Department of Agriculture "pollinator program" that sees the department pay farmers to use parcels of their land to grow prairie flowers and grasses, providing a habitat for bees, birds and butterflies.

The USDA says it currently has 72 pollinator habitat contracts with landowners in the state, providing 750 acres of native plant life, but interest in the program is such that a further 55 applications are currently waiting for funding to become available.

"It's a pretty diverse landscape, versus the surrounding areas that are predominantly ag," Fred Specht, a Mahnomen farmer taking part in the program, told MPR. "It's not a real large area, but it's a nice little niche area for wildlife."

The USDA says that honeybees are a "critical link" to agriculture, with bee pollination adding $15 billion in value to crops produced in the U.S. each year, and is responsible for one in three mouthfuls of food we eat every day.

Bee lawn to encourage yard conservation

KSTP reports that efforts are also being made at the University of Minnesota-owned Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, where staff are staking out a bee lawn as an example for visitors in what is believed to be one of the first projects of its kind in the country.

"We're putting in a bee lawn demo to show people what they can do with their lawn to increase the diversity of plants that bees can be attracted to the area and find pollen and nectar," Mary Meyer, horticulture professor at the U, said.

The project is seeing plants such as the native selfheal, flowering thyme and white clover were among those planted on the lawn, which are useful because they have nectar and can survive a lawn mowing, KSTP says.

Similar efforts are being made by Bethel University in St. Paul, which last month added a colony of bees to its on-campus gardens, where it currently grows its own produce and herbs.

The colony has been brought in by Sodexo, which runs the campus dining services, after general manager Bob Schuchardt and his wife Ruth learned about efforts to arrest declining bee populations at the Minnesota State Fair.

Bethel's bee colony, which will be monitored by a full-time team from the University of Minnesota's "Bee Squad," will produce honey as well as involving the wider community "in fostering a healthy environment for bees."

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