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May 19, 2017 | last updated May 22, 2017 2:58 pm

Federal grant to help beekeepers and maple producers find their 'sweet spot'

A $498,462 grant will support research at the University of Maine that has a goal of helping beekeepers and maple syrup producers find their "sweet spot."

The grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture will fund a three-year project overseen by Jessica Leahy, interim associate dean for research in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture and interim associate director of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, according to a UMaine press release.

Leahy's project aims to increase knowledge of the production and marketing challenges and opportunities for small- and medium-sized beekeeping and maple syrup producers in the state.

Bees are important both as honey producers and pollinators.

In 2016, Maine had 12,000 honey-producing colonies, producing 408,000 pounds of honey, with a value of $1.31 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, whose tally is based on farms with five or more colonies.

In 2015, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry unveiled a Pollinator Protection Plan to protect pollinators as vitally important to fruit and vegetable production.

As for maple syrup, Maine is one of 10 states that produce the product, along with Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin. Including multiplier effects, Maine's maple syrup industry annually contributes $49 million in revenue, 805 full- and part-time jobs and $25 million in wages to the state's economy.

Other USDA grants awarded to UMaine

Two other UMaine researchers were among the recipients of nearly $17.5 million in grants awarded by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to 47 institutions nationwide. The funding is made possible through NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Mindy Crandall, a UMaine researcher who's on the faculty in the School of Forest Resources, was awarded $458,275 for a three-year study that will look at economic restructuring, community characteristics and young people's perceptions of local labor markets in traditionally forest-dependent rural communities in Maine and Oregon.

The project will "encourage youth employment and entrepreneurship activities to foster resilient rural communities," according to the UMaine news release.

Kathleen Bell, a professor of resource economics and policy in the School of Economics, received $77,492 for a nine-month project to gain greater understanding of rural communities and entrepreneurs and identify ways to enhance rural economic opportunities.

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