- Associated Press - Monday, August 10, 2015

MORRIS, Minn. (AP) - Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are testing about a dozen flowering plants that dot the landscape in western Minnesota to see whether they can be used as critical food for bees and an additional source of income for farmers.

The plants, which include calendula, echium and borage, can provide food for bees, as well as a harvest of seeds that provide various kinds of oil, said Dean Peterson, a research technician with the federal agency.

“The initial idea then is to keep flowers on the landscape, but also these oilseeds are valuable for products in and of themselves,” he said.

Calendula oil can be used in paints, borage oil can be used in vitamins, and echium oil can be used in anti-wrinkle creams, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1P10LAu ) reported.

Echium could bring more money per acre than corn, said Frank Forcella, a research agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“All the wrinkles in the world could probably be solved by 100,000 acres of this stuff, so we don’t need millions of acres of echium,” he said. “But just an acre or two in every county in Minnesota would provide a heck of a lot of pollen and nectar for honeybees.”

Researchers are analyzing the crops’ oil production and calculating how much energy they provide to bees. The ultimate goal is to help bees, butterflies and other pollinators that have seen a reduction in their food supplies due to changes in agriculture and land use that have caused the number of flowering plants in their environment to dwindle.

Dan Whitney, president of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association, has witnessed firsthand the effect that the changing agriculture landscape has had on bees and honey production.

“About 20 years ago we were about 100 pounds a hive, and our yields now are probably 50 pounds a hive,” he said. “That’s how much habitat, how many flowers we’ve lost.”

Whitney said bee populations also have been hit hard by disease and pesticides due to malnutrition.

But the agency’s effort to introduce new alternative crops makes him hopeful.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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