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Honey Bees Help Mississippi Farmers’ Vegetable Production

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USDA honeybee campaign

By Judi Craddock
Published: June 17, 2013 

Buzzing around the Holifield’s rows of fruits and vegetables, bees are a driving force behind this farm’s “green thumb.”

Dale and Lynn Holifield farm 450 acres in the heart of Mississippi where their not-so-garden-variety farm boasts a wealth of produce, sturdy timber, quail and bees.

But their success wasn’t by accident. They give some credit to the bees.

The couple has about 100 honey bee boxes, from which they produce and sell honey. Their farm also has its share of native bees, which have benefitted from conservation improvements to the land.

The honey bee is single handedly responsible for billions of dollars’ worth of American crops each year. Pollinators like bees visit flowers in search for food (nectar or pollen). During the visit, a pollinator may accidentally brush against a flower’s reproductive parts, depositing pollen from a different flower. The plant uses the pollen to produce a fruit or seed.

The boxes of bees sit near their garden where they raise blackberries, tomatoes, potatoes and a number of other fruits and vegetables. Buzzing amid the blackberry flowers and turnip plants that went to seed were hungry honey bees.

“We were going to pull up the turnips, but we realized the bees loved the flowers and left them alone,” Lynn Holifield said.

Added Dale Holifield: “We have a great garden, and we know the bees help with pollination.”

Roughly one of three bites of food is dependent on the work of honey bees and other pollinators, mostly wild native bees. But despite their crucial importance, pollinators are in trouble. Although research is still being done, it’s thought many are seeing decreasing populations because of habitat loss, disease, parasites and contaminants. 

While the Holifields have raised bees for five years, some of their mentors in beekeeping said the craft is getting tougher with time as beekeepers face growing pest and disease pressure, less safe bee forage, and even colony collapse disorder.  The Holifields only lost 15 percent of his hives this past winter, which they say is a blessing. One winter, they lost half of their hives.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service works with private landowners to create the ideal habitat for native bees, honey bees, and other pollinators. By spurring the growth of wildflowers and other plants, both along fields and in forests, the perfect food and sanctuary for pollinators can be created.

For example, the Holifields have used prescribed burning to enhance their forestlands. Burning helps generate new understory growth, which includes wildflowers, blackberries and other beneficial plants.

The conservation work for pollinators comes with additional environmental benefits, such as healthier soil, cleaner water and food for wildlife. NRCS offers 37 conservation practices that provide ample benefits for pollinators.

This week, NRCS and its many conservation partners are celebrating National Pollinator Week. Learn more about this week and how you can use conservation to help pollinators on your land. Follow the pollinator buzz by reading stories from other pollinator conservationists.