Alfalfa seed production requires large numbers of bees to pollinate large fields. In areas with alkaline soil where honey bees do not thrive, the alkaline bee, Nomia melanderi, may be managed as a pollinator of alfalfa. These ground nesting Halictid bees, slightly smaller than honey bees, make nests in the soil where they store pollen and rear brood. In suitable areas, populations number in the tens of thousands and one population was estimated at over 5 million.
The value of alkali bees was discovered accidentally when alfalfa growers extended alfalfa production into bee nesting sites. Without the bees, pollination decreased and seed set plummeted. Today, we know the value of alkali bees as pollinators and growers actively manage “bee beds” to have pollinators that will improve their seed yields.