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.