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Growing Interest in Seeds for Bees® Program

6/22/2022

Enrollment is now open through August 31 for Seeds for Bees®, a popular incentive program administered by Project Apis m. (PAm), which provides free cover crop seed for the first two years of enrollment. This year, PAm will provide more free seed than ever before in light of the tough economic conditions growers face. 

“I’m a grower up here in Chico and cultural costs have gone through the roof,” said Rory Crowley, Director of Habitat Programs for PAm. “Diesel, fertilizer, you name it – it’s hard. Due to that, Seeds for Bees is pushing out more free seed allocations this year.” 

Growers who enroll in the program by August 31 are eligible for a $2,500 discount off their total seed purchase in year one, with a $1,500 discount the following year. Previously, growers received discounts of $2,000 and $1,000 in years one and two, respectively. Participation in this year’s program has been high and interested parties are encouraged to apply now before funding runs out. 

In addition to financial assistance, Seeds for Bees offers growers technical and agronomic support for planting forage for honey bees at critical times of the year when natural forage is scarce. 

“We want to make sure growers are getting seed at the doorstep of the ranch by October 1,” Crowley said. “October is the prime month to get seed in the ground to provide extra habitat to pollinators before, during and after the almond bloom.” 

The program offers five cover crop seed mixes for growers to choose from. Crowley recommends that growers choose PAm’s Pollinator Brassica mix – a “workhorse” mix at a great price point –that supports soil quality and pollinator health. 

“Since there’s a drought and growers are really being pinched in their wallet, we’ll push the brassica mix because we know it grows on a limited amount of water and it’s less costly, so you can get more seed in the ground,” Crowley said. “We saw some places in the south valley where they only got three inches of rain last year the plants still took off three to five feet high.” 

Cover crop benefits beyond the hive 

While cover crops increase the density, diversity and duration of pollinator forage, they can also improve soil quality by improving nitrogen levels, water infiltration and water-holding capacity. 

Cover crops can also reduce compaction and improve the workability of orchard soil. Pre-existing issues of soil compaction can be exacerbated during harvest, a time when shakers, sweepers, tractors and other heavy equipment roll through orchards. Compaction also can be a greater problem in soils that have more silt. 

“Soil compaction has been a problem for us,” said grower Chris Rishwain, who has planted cover crops for several years in the windrows of his 150-acre orchard near Manteca. “My goal to reduce soil compaction is aimed at helping improve the orchard’s water retention, allowing the roots of our trees to penetrate deeper in the soil to obtain water and minerals, and also to allow for better soil aeration, which supports the microbes in the soil.” 

Soil compaction – coupled with other contributing factors – can negatively affect tree development and subsequent tree productivity. While there is work that can be done to prevent or decrease the severity of soil compaction before trees are planted in an orchard, once an orchard is established those options become more limited. That’s where cover crops can help. 

Almond Board partnership delivers results 

The Almond Board of California (ABC) supports the Seeds for Bees program through its Bee+ Scholarship, allowing for more almond growers to access cover crop seed assistance. Last year, 143 new almond growers participated in Seeds for Bees, resulting in the planting of more than 5,600 acres of cover crops in and around 11,236 acres of almond orchards. In total, 177 almond growers participated in the program last year, making up 72% of all participants in Seeds for Bees. 

“The almond industry continues to lead in cover crop planting, especially in our program and we’re happy to see that,” Crowley said. “The Almond Board continues to come through, funding the program, getting the word out to growers, and promoting honey bee best management practices.” 

ABC’s investment in Seeds for Bees since 2020 has led to the sponsorship of more than 7,500 acres of cover crop plantings. 

Cover crop tools and guides available 

Growers can enroll in Seeds for Bees at ProjectApism.org, where they will also find a quick reference guide that answers many frequently asked questions about managing and planting cover crops. Crowley also notes that a new streamlined application form to enroll in the program is now available. 

“We want to make it easy, accessible and user-friendly to participate,” Crowley said. “It’s a simple form that can be done in less than 20 minutes. This application process is probably one of the easiest in the industry for getting free stuff.” 

Growers can also download ABC’s Cover Crop Best Management Practices (BMPs), an easy-to-follow guide that covers everything any grower might want to know before introducing the practice into his or her orchard.