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Carrie Eberle joins Soils Lab on oilseed crops and honeybees research project

Dr. Carrie Eberle will be working with Dr. Frank Forcella at the Soils Lab on a project to look at how integrating oilseed crops into farming systems can improve honeybee health. (Kim Ukura/Sun Tribune)

MORRIS -- After spending most of her time as a graduate student in a lab or a greenhouse researching plant biology and pollination systems, Dr. Carrie Eberle was ready to get out from behind a microscope.

Her interest in applied research led her to Dr. Frank Forcella at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris and a project to help improve the health of local honeybees.

Eberle grew up in Menomene Falls, Wisc., a suburb of Milwaukee, and attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison where she studied biology and horticulture. After taking some time off, Eberle returned to school in the plant and biological sciences program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

“I started in [this field] because I started doing landscaping work over the summers and was drawn to plants in general – they're very comforting,” said Eberle. “Since I like science, it was a way to merge the two interests.”

Last month, Eberle began work at the Soils Lab as a post-doctoral research associate. Eberle is working with Dr. Frank Forcella to look at how integrating oilseed crops into farming systems can help improve the health of honeybees and other beneficial native insects in the region.

About one-third of the honeybee colonies in the United States are located in Minnesota and North and South Dakota. But the region also has a lot of corn, a crop honeybees are not interested in, Eberle explained.

“We've basically wiped-out the landscape that they would use for a food source,” said Eberle.

Research at the Soils Lab will look at how specialty crops can be worked into farm production and how honeybees respond to their presence in the landscape and whether having other natural food sources can improve the health of bee colonies, said Eberle.

Their research will also address how the oilseed crops affect yield, soil health and the crop that is planted after to see which crop might offer the best incentive for farmers to grow in addition to corn.

“I've always wanted to work in a field that I can tell my mom and dad what I'm doing and they can see why it's important,” said Eberle. “This project, especially, you talk about pollinators, you talk about the type of crops we're looking at and people get it – it's a pretty easy thing to understand.”

Eberle said it is also interesting to be working in a community full of people familiar with agriculture who will be able to understand and comment on the research.

“When I talk about what we're doing, at least in one aspect of it, the farming, everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about and has questions,” said Eberle. “It's interesting to have a whole community that really gets it.”