The corn-soybean cropping system dominates the landscape in much of the Midwest where one-third of US honey bee colonies reside. We are looking for soybean growers to help with a new study that will test whether a slightly different management strategy for soybeans can help support pollinators, improve honey production for beekeepers, and improve soil health while maximizing crop productivity.
This study was largely inspired by a pilot project led by Nate Douridas at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center, where a perennial wildflower mix was planted in low-yielding areas in a large field (see video “Turning Red Acres Green” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpPhLj-0Db0). During soybean bloom last year, we observed lots of bees foraging on the wildflowers and on soybeans near the wildflower zones. We would like to further investigate how this management strategy, along with planting soybean varieties that are attractive to bees, could improve productivity in both honey bees and soybeans.
We are seeking large fields (100 acres or more) with some existing low-yielding areas identified by yield monitor data that can be replaced with wildflowers (we will provide wildflower seed). Wildflowers may also be planted in border areas of the field. The experiment will continue for four years with the following schedule:
- Year 1: plant wildflowers and a soybean variety of the grower’s choice.
- Year 2: plant corn. No change to the wildflower areas.
- Year 3: plant a nectar-rich soybean variety. No change to the wildflower areas.
- Year 4: remove wildflowers, plant a nectar-rich soybean variety in the entire field.
We will be working with the Ohio Soybean Performance Trials to identify a list of nectar-rich soybean varieties (data will be available by the end of 2022). We will also monitor the growth of four honey bee colonies installed at one edge of the field with an automated hive scale throughout the study period. We will evaluate the diversity of insect pollinators in the wildflower zones and adjacent soybeans during bloom. Yield monitor maps and pod evaluations (from a small set of hand-harvested plants) will be compared to evaluate any yield benefits. Soil samples will be collected to determine how the perennial wildflowers affect soil properties.
You can also participate without the wildflower experiment by just planting nectar-rich soybean varieties and allowing us to collect insect and plant samples in the field and monitor honey bee colonies housed near the soybean field.
If you are interested in participating in this research, please contact Chia Lin (614-247-4780 or email Lin.email@example.com).