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Bringing Back the Bees

Posted by Renae Anderson, NRCS Wisconsin in Conservation
Feb 21, 2017
Some bees are specialists that only pollinate certain plants. This squash bee works the Cucurbita crops—squash and pumpkins.  (Photo courtesy of Nancy Adamson and the Xerces Society)
Some bees are specialists that only pollinate certain plants. This squash bee works the Cucurbita crops—squash and pumpkins. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Adamson and the Xerces Society)

A recently awarded USDA Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) will fund research into bee-friendly seed mixes.

A partnership made up of the Xerces Society, University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Wisconsin is working to develop and test seed mixes that will provide the best habitat for native bees. CIG-funded projects use innovative technologies and approaches to address natural resources issues.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce, and in the U.S., bees are the main pollinators of fruits and vegetables. But bees, bats and other pollinators are struggling as habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many species of pollinators, including the more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America.

To ensure that bees and other pollinators don’t just survive, but also thrive, USDA programs provide funding and technical assistance for farmers to implement pollinator-friendly practices on their lands. One important practice is incorporating plantings that attract native bees and other pollinators to the borders of fields and other areas and feed them a varied diet throughout the year.

Providing healthy habitat for native bees will also help feed managed hives of European honey bees—which are used to pollinate many commercial crops in the U.S.—and make them heartier, as they too reap the benefits of a diverse and healthy diet.

Not long ago, Wisconsin was home to 13 species of bumble bee. Now, two of the most common bumblebees are no longer found here, due to habitat loss and environmental contaminants.  (Photo courtesy of Hannah Gaines from UW-Madison Entomology Dept.)
Not long ago, Wisconsin was home to 13 species of bumble bee. Now, two of the most common bumblebees are no longer found here, due to habitat loss and environmental contaminants. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Gaines from UW-Madison Entomology Dept.)

That’s where bee-friendly seed mixes come in. Four half-acre demonstration sites have been planted using the new seed mixes in field borders and buffer areas: on apple and fresh vegetable farms, a cranberry operation, and a cucumber-and-pepper farm. The first results will be seen this summer, when scientists will observe how quickly and successfully the new plantings establish themselves, and how quickly the bees return.

Getting the right seed mix to attract and sustain a healthy native bee population is a challenge. Bees need flowers—but not just any flowers. They need to be the right color and size, and bloom at the right times.

Bees are attracted to white, yellow, blue or purple flowers. Bees also need a variety of sizes, ranging from big sturdy flowers for the bumble bees to small delicate ones for the sweat bees. Timing is also important—for example, bees need some flowers to be steadily in bloom from the time the bees first crawl out of their winter nests in early spring until they go back in late fall.

Find out more about Conservation Innovation Grants.

Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog.

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Category/Topic: Conservation

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Old Technician
Jan 27, 2012

If USDA wishes to protect honeybees, we need to get serious about limited the excessive use of pesticides and limit a farmers ability to clear fencerows and woodlots. We have a 1970's metality in the farming community right now with commodity prices as they are.

nancy bergman
Jan 27, 2012

this is great but the #1 bee friendly thing that farmers can do it monitor their use of pesticides--especially systemic pesticides. All the habitat in the world can be planted but if the bees are being poisoned it is not going to do a bit of good.

Bill Miller
Jan 27, 2012

Are there any grants now available to farmers planting specialized types of Wild flower or other types of Bee food plants on their Bee farms ? Thank you, Bill Miller, 1/27/12.

Jeff Bodony
Jan 28, 2012

Hi Renae,thanks for your good and important work.In doing the trials for pollinator forage plants ,how about including common "medicinals",then the farms will have another crop to work into their marketing plan and will give them an added incentive to protect and propagate these species which are vital to ALL of us.
JB Viriditas Wild Gardens

Soil Conservationist
Jan 30, 2012

Bill Miller,

Contact your local NRCS by Feb 4 to sign up for EQIP, a program that offers a flat rate payment incentive for planting pollinator habitat if you meet program eligibility requirements.

Honey Bee Lover
Jan 31, 2012

What about the "urban" use of Sevin? What about cleared hardwoods that are replanted in pines, or developed into sub-divisions? These have nothing to do with your average farmer. Let's not point fingers at just one group.

Jan 31, 2012


Thanks for your question about aid for farmers planting pollinator-friendly plants. Farmers and ranchers applying for NRCS assistance through Farm Bill programs who propose incorporating bee- and other pollinator-friendly practices on their lands, including the planting of pollinator habitat, can gain additional points when their applications are ranked, making them more likely to be accepted. For more information, please visit… and/or contact your local NRCS office (find it on this map:


Sarah Graddy
NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

Bee Keeper
Feb 01, 2012

Trying to establish bees is costly. What about some program to help with this exspence? I have established 7 hives and wish to do more,

Carla Bowman
Feb 02, 2012

Hi, I don't recognize the purple wildflower(???) pictured here, it is quite different. What is the name, please? Could it be grown in Central Pennsylvania, Zone 6? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

Doug Pedersen
Feb 03, 2012

When you say navtive bee species do you mean truly native?
I think a lot of people forget the honey bee is not native to the USA and partially lead to the decline in native bee species.
Hopefully we can keep the farm programs that incourage lots of native forbes and wildflowers going strong.

Lady Beekeeper
Feb 19, 2012

The purple wildflower looks a lot like Tansy. Wish I had known about the EQIP program! I plant lots of bee friendly flora on my 22 acres.

Pesticides are a problem, but so are herbicides! And now everyone wants to plant "Roundup Ready" ______. Or the latest and greatest clover/vetch/whatever from Their State's A&M. All of which are SELF-Pollinating! We need to teach people to return to rotation crops, legume/smother plantings, and get people to think about caring for their farms and ranches, NOT just making money off of them.

We should be stewards and care takers, not just producers.

Wreaths For Door
Feb 26, 2012

Hi, I had heard that there was a bee problem until last year when I went to my local garden center for flowers. The horticulturist told me of the problem and I found extremely worry some. We need bees from a human stand point no bees, no pollination = no food = no life. I sell Wreaths and heavily rely on west coast farmers for my products. I agree back to basics of farming

Moab Jeanne
May 22, 2014

We would like to find the expert from USDA on this issue to brief our organization about it and learn what we can do to be helpful

Granny Habib
Oct 05, 2016

We have had our best bee luck with purple sage plants ... Some of our plants are the size of small cars and they especially love them ! We are doing our part by using no pesticides .... Having seen the death of all the horny toads in our yard due to our neighbors' pesticide use ...

Darius Hill
Aug 24, 2019

I have about ten acres I would like to seed for a wildflower meadow. These seeds are very expensive from online sources. How do I get grant funded seeds to plant from the USDA? I'm in the last refuges of the rust patch bubble bee in southern West Virginia and would like to provide them habitat.

matthew sturgeon
Aug 30, 2021

Is this program still available if so please email me the application (bring back the bees) I'm in Ohio thank you!

Julia Humphrey
Oct 25, 2021

I’m interested in planting seeds fir bees. I have a 4 acre pasture and a 50 acre tract both in Taylor county. Joined group and will be putting 4-6 hives on 50 acres.

Howard parker
May 22, 2022

I am very interested in bee population on my 5.3 acre property

Bob Arganbright
Jul 21, 2022

Does the USDA sell wildflower seeds?