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Researchers focus on bees and cranberries

MADISON, Wis (WSAU-Wheeler News)  Scientists at U-W Madison want to find out if cranberry growers can attract native bees to pollinate their crops, and rely less on bee-keepers to bring in honey-bees.

A team led by entomology professor Claudio Gratton is about to study whether planting things like flowers in the cranberry fields would attract native bees. The goals are to increase pollination and produce more berries, while reducing their reliance on bee-keepers that are getting more expensive to hire. Tom Lochner of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association says it's a "significant cost" for growers -- and it's been rising in the wake of recent declines in commercial honey-bee populations.

Jeremy Hemberger, a U-W graduate student who's performing the research, says cranberry growers appear to be optimistic about using native bees. However, they point out potential problems like weed growth. It's also possible that the wildflowers might lure the bees away from their intended pollination cranberry targets.

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