A struggling bee population in the U.S. might soon receive some help from the federal government.
Even if you don't like honey, chances are, you're affected by the bee decline. More than $15 billion in agricultural production depends on bees to pollinate their produce, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One local beekeeper says a little extra money from the government might help kick start a bigger movement.
Jordan Bendel is that local beekeeper. He farms several hives outside Westby, but three years, ago, he farmed even more in Minnesota.
"We saw a lot of colony collapse," Bendel says.
For that and other reasons, Bendel and his family relocated and downsized. Now, instead of honey, he farms the bees themselves and sells them to other farmers who are dealing with a population loss - and these days, that's a bigger market.
"[They have] less of a habitat, the amount of forage they can get has really gone down, maybe the variety of forage has gone done, there are definitely changes that have occurred and we do see a smaller honey crop," Bendel said.
Beekeeping has been in his family for ages. Back in the day, his father and grandfather could produce about 100 pounds of honey annual - now, Bendel says he could produce less than half of that, thanks to Wisconsin's changing landscape.
"There's not as much pasture anymore, and the last two winter have been really tough on the bees," he said.
The bee population has less space to live and work - but the USDA is working to reserve that. It's announced an $8 million grant to be given to five Midwestern states, including Wisconsin, to help create more bee habitats.
Bendel says that may not be enough.
"I think it helps get things going in the right direction, but I don't necessarily think it's the end-all be-all," he said.
But it's not about the money - Bendel hopes the effort will kickstart a larger movement to educate people about bees and how to protect their habitats.
"I think the most important thing is education, educating land owners and beekeepers about the health of the bees and things we can do to help drive it in the right direction," he said.
Bendel says he hasn't yet heard when or how the grant money will be distributed to bee farmers - but because of the national buzz on bees, he has seen a big increase in honeybee hobbyists who want to get involved and help raise more hives.
If you're interested in beekeeping or just want to learn more about western Wisconsin's hive population, there are classes available through the Driftless Folk School. Find out more here.