Pollinator research

Natalie Boyle (left), director of educational programming at Penn State’s Insect Biodiversity Center, shows state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding (right) and Richard Roush, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, a honeycomb during an event highlighting grant funding for specialty agricultural products.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding was joined by the dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences to highlight nearly $1 million in state investments to strengthen the competitiveness of Pennsylvania specialty crops.

On Monday they joined researchers whose projects are benefitting pollinator health and promoting the competitiveness of Pennsylvania honey.

“Pollinators are critical to the success of Pennsylvania agriculture; one out of every three bites we eat is thanks to pollinators,” Redding said. “Honey bees are a critical part of that narrative, but they are also key to growing new markets for specialty crops.”

He said supporting honey research and promotion through the Pennsylvania Specialty Crop Block Grant allows the state to grow its honey market while supporting research that will benefit pollinator health — and all of Pennsylvania agriculture.

State Specialty Crop Block Grants fund specialty crops not eligible under the federal specialty crop grant program, and those designated as high priority crops in the state: hemp, hops, hardwoods and honey as well as and barley, rye and wheat for distilling, brewing and malting.

Eligible projects enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of specialty crops through research to increase conservation and environmental outcomes, enhance food safety, develop new and improved seed varieties, or improve pest and disease control.

The Grozinger Lab, part of Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research, received grant funding to grow the competitiveness of Pennsylvania honey in the marketplace by identifying honeys’ unique floral origins.

The lab uses DNA-barcoding technology to trace pollen grains as botanical fingerprints, allowing Pennsylvania beekeepers to authenticate varietal honey, such as alfalfa, buckwheat and clover honey. Utilizing the geographic information system (GIS) tools through Beescape, the lab will also analyze trends in habitat and threats impacting foraging bees.

The Grozinger Lab is one of 23 projects across 11 counties to benefit from the State Specialty Crop Block Grant, which has awarded nearly $1 million over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years.

Rick Roush, dean of Penn State’s ag sciences, said the grants are supporting a multidisciplinary team to leverage diverse technologies, including genomics, software engineering and machine learning, to help beekeepers, growers, land managers, and the public map and predict the floral resources different bee species are using.

“This knowledge is important to design pollinator habitats that support bee health, productivity and pollination services,” he said.

Roush noted research is critical to preserving the pollination responsible for producing many nutritious foods and seed production to maintain the diversity of plant species.

For more information, contact Morgan Sheffield at (717) 787- 3568 or msheffield@pa.gov, or visit agriculture.pa.gov.

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