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Landowners in the upper Midwest have until March 21 to apply for assistance under a new EQIP program designed to improve summer pasture for honeybees.

According to an announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide nearly $3 million in technical and financial assistance for interested farmers and ranchers. The funding is “a focused investment” to improve pollinator health and will be targeted to five Midwestern states—Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

These Midwestern states were chosen because from June to September the region is the foraging ground for more than 65 percent of the two million commercially managed honeybee colonies in the country. During this time, bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.

Funding will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to promote conservation practices that will provide honeybees with plants that supply pollen and nectar as well as providing other benefits to the environment.

Jennifer C. Heglund, assistant state conservationist in North Dakota, said her agency has good connections with beekeepers in the state and will spread the word about the new program in time for landowners to apply.

Because of the large amount of bees that spend their summers in North Dakota, about half of the new funding will come to that state.

The idea is to target guidance and financial support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honeybees, with those closest to bee yards getting top priority. Beekeepers rarely own the land their bees forage on, she said.

Beekeepers are attracted to North Dakota, Heglund said, because of state has a diverse landscape of native grasses and hayland, tree windbreaks, and diverse crops including sunflowers and canola. Pesticide use on these crops is less frequent or intense than it is on the specialty crops the bees are hired to pollinate.

As winter approaches, beekeepers move their bees south to prepare for the annual pilgrimage to almond pollination in California in February.