Category Archives: Text

Culinary guide gives bees something to buzz about


Sweat bee on Echinacea purpureaBy ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING – If you were a honeybee in Michigan, hairy mountain mint and common milkweed might be your top menu choices.

If you were a Michigan bumblebee, you’d prefer chowing down on bee balm and shrubby St. John’s wort.

And if you belonged to one of the state’s 465-plus species of wild bees, roundleaf ragwort and gray goldenrod may whet your appetite.

Discovering what bees like to eat has important ramifications for growers and farmers whose apples, cherries, blueberries, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, pears and other flowering fruits and vegetables depend on bees for pollination, said Logan Rowe, a co-author of a recently published study examining Michigan bees’ feeding preferences.

The research can help farmers and growers decide what native plants to grow near their orchards and fields, said Rowe, a zoologist with Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

The study said, “Since bees obtain nearly all their nutritional requirements from pollen and nectar provided by flowering plants, the availability of these resources within bees’ flight range is crucial to their survival. Flower plantings have been shown to increase the yield of adjacent pollinator-dependent crops.”

Rowe said, “We already encourage growers to incorporate native plants,” and the findings will help them more accurately select the best seed mixtures to attract bees.

The research comes at a time of growing concern about the nation’s bees.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that insect pollinators, mainly honey bees, increase the value of crops in the country by more than $15 billion a year.

However, the agency said, “Critical honey bee and wild bee populations in the United States have been declining in recent years, creating concern about the future security of pollination services for agricultural crops.”

Reasons for the decline include pests, pesticides, colony collapse disorder and diseases, as well as “shifting landscapes” in the Midwest where cropland is expanding at the expense of “crucial native grasslands and conservation lands that have historically provided abundant flowers for honey bees and native pollinators,” the Geological Survey said.

Scientists conducted the Michigan study in the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Leelanau County, the Clarksville Research Center in Ionia County and the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center in Berrien County.

They planted 51 species of drought-tolerant native prairie plants and two non-native species, then observed more than 3,500 honey bees, wild bees and bumblebees as they visited the flowers.

“We were seeing which were most supportive of pollinators,” Rowe said. There’s been little prior research about what types of flowering plants in Michigan’s prairie-type habitat appeal best to different types of bees.

One surprise finding is that bees in different regions of the state have different dietary preferences, he said.

Bees aren’t the only beneficiaries of targeted plantings, the study said. They also provide habitat for threatened wildlife.

The study by researchers at MSU and the University of Manitoba appeared in the journal “Environmental Entomology.”


Changing climate challenges potato growers, chip makers


By Eric Freedman

Capital News Service

Michigan is the nation’s largest grower of potatoes for chips – about one in four bags sold in the U.S. is made from Michigan potatoes.

Can climate change jeopardize the state’s dominance? Maybe, a new study warns.

Continue reading Changing climate challenges potato growers, chip makers

New tools to harvest better potatoes

Mercy Kitavi is a geneticist and capacity-building scientist with the International Potato Center based in Nairobi, Kenya.

By Mercy Kitavi

In a traditional African setting, we say that time waits for no man and doesn’t spare the women either.

At exactly 5:30 a.m. in East Africa, the cock crows and Kanini slowly stretches from her rickety-legged wooden bed that is covered by a thin mattress. She knows she is lucky, yet every morning when she opens her eyes to a new day, she feels like closing them again.

Continue reading New tools to harvest better potatoes

Bridging food scientists and journalists with communications training in the public interest

Malawi researcher Phillip Kamwendo, with hat, explains experiment in groundnut production to African journalists . Image: David Poulson
Malawi researcher Phillip Kamwendo, with hat, explains crop experiments to African journalists . Image: David Poulson

By David Poulson

Phillip Kamwendo finished explaining to a group of African reporters how he used “friendly bacteria” to improve groundnut seeds.

Then the Malawi researcher turned to a nearby team led by Michigan State University experts, flashed them a wide grin and gave them two thumbs up. It was a highlight for our team that had worked for days with Kamwendo and others at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) to refine how to explain their research.

“When he asked the reporters how many of them understood what an innoculant was, I felt like a proud grandmother,” said Emmanuella Delva, a program officer with USAID, the project’s funder,  and who pitched in on the training.

Amol Pavangadkar, director of MSU's Sandbox Studios, explains video production techniques to Malawian journalists
Amol Pavangadkar, director of MSU’s Sandbox Studios, explains video production techniques to Malawian journalists. Image: David Poulson

The work in Malawi was the start of a two-continent, three-country training tour that I’m still on.  I just finished work with other scientists – including two MSU alums – at the Rwanda offices of the International Potato Center to help them explain their research story to funders and others.

Now I’m in Lima, Peru, about to do the same thing this week at that center’s South American headquarters.

The work in Malawi was by far the most complex. Continue reading Bridging food scientists and journalists with communications training in the public interest