a0476 BC-US-FarmScene-Bumblebe 07-17 0797
Grant to help restore bumblebee habitat near farms
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AP Photo ORJB101, ORJB102
By JEFF BARNARD
AP Environmental Writer
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — With bumblebees and other native insects that pollinate crops dying off, scientists are working on the best ways to restore natural habitat on or near farms.
The Xerces Society, based in Portland, announced this week it has received $458,000 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to do some of the work.
Part of the money will go toward tracking how pollination improves on farmland around Davis, Calif., where farmers have established mile-long hedgerows to provide food and shelter for pollinators like bumblebees and insects such as ladybugs, which prey on pests.
The rest will be spent on working with universities and agricultural organizations to develop local combinations of trees, shrubs and plants that can be used nationwide to make life better for beneficial insects.
"If you provide the habitat, what we see is these animals will come and will help farmers," said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society.
Farmers have been relying increasingly on native pollinators such as bumblebees since honeybees — a European transplant — began dying from a mysterious combination of ailments known as colony collapse disorder. But many of the 4,000 species of bumblebees in North America also are threatened, primarily by disease and habitat loss.
Modern industrial farming has been terrible for native pollinators, said Claire Kremen, associate professor of zoology at the University of California at Berkeley. Crops are planted so they cover every inch of ground, and they only bloom once a year, so there is little food for bumblebees to eat the rest of the time. Bumblebees also need undisturbed ground or trees for nests, and there is little of that.
"It’s kind of ironic that the place where we need them most to pollinate fruits and vegetables, that’s where we don’t have them any longer," Kremen said.
The habitat project created six hedgerows as much as a mile long and 80 feet wide planted with trees, shrubs and herbs that flower from January — when the first bumblebees emerge from hibernation — through fall, when the bees die off or go back into hibernation. Farmers planted the hedgerows in 2007, and about 60 bumblebee species use them.
The nectar and pollen also will help honeybees by providing a more nourishing source of food than the sugar water they usually get from beekeepers, Kremen said.
WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) — Too much of a good thing has turned into a disaster for Eastern Washington cherry growers.
Growers had expected a great year, but they wound up with too much fruit and the market quickly became saturated.
"It was the perfect storm," said grower Shawn McNeill, who had twice as much fruit this year as his best previous crop. He now expects to do little more than break even.
A combination of winter tree damage, perfect pollination and a late harvest meant more cherries arrived at packinghouses than could be marketed at once. The glut caused market prices to drop below what it cost some growers to produce the fruit. Average prices for best-quality cherries range between $20 to $26 for an 18-pound box, about half of what they were last year.
McNeill said he tried to grow large cherries and was able to harvest about 85 percent of his fruit. Still, he left behind more than 6 tons of Bings and about 10 tons of Rainier cherries that were too small to sell profitably.
"I had to walk away from limbs and whole trees. That was hard," he said.
Washington farmers have faced the possibility of a huge crop for several years after significant growth in cherry orchards over the past decade. In the past few years, weather and other factors have reduced the crop to a manageable size.
Northwest Cherry Growers estimated this year’s crop at about 18 million 20-pound boxes. That’s about 20 percent more than the record 2006 crop and nearly twice as large as the 2007 crop. The amount of fruit packed, however, could be less than a record because some was left in the orchard.