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Farmers Get $3 Million in Bee Lunch Money

Honeybees are in decline in Europe and North America.
Honeybees are in decline in Europe and North America. (Image credit:

There's no such thing as a free lunch — unless you're a bee. A new Department of Agriculture initiative offers up to $3 million to improve the food supply for honeybees.

Of course, the bees really do earn their keep. Commercial honeybees alone pollinate some $15 billion of produce each year, according to the Associated Press, a number that doesn't include the economic impact of native bees that also pollinate crops. But both native bees and imported honeybees are struggling in the face of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious ailment that kills off whole hives. Colony collapse may result, in part, from a plant virus that has started infecting bees, scientists believe. Other deadly viruses and possibly chemical contaminates play a roll as well.

To stave the losses, the USDA program will pay farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North and South Dakota to reseed pastures with clover, alfalfa and other plants that bees love, the AP reports. Livestock can also use these pastures to graze. Feeding bees may help them stave off illness, the agency hopes, particularly in an agricultural landscape dominated by corn, soybean and cotton — not the insects' preferred plants.

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Stephanie Pappas
Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science. She covers the world of human and animal behavior, as well as paleontology and other science topics. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has ducked under a glacier in Switzerland and poked hot lava with a stick in Hawaii. Stephanie hails from East Tennessee, the global center for salamander diversity. Follow Stephanie on Google+.