Pollinators - Producers support bee populationsWritten by Rebecca Colnar
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the pollinator “die off” situation is not as dire as some would have it. The piece, titled “Call Off the Beepocalpyse: U.S. Honey Bee Colonies Hit a 20-Year High,” primarily notes that since Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was designated in 2006, beekeepers have done an admirable job in replenishing their bees.
Writer Christopher Ingraham notes, “The number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA. The 2014 numbers, which came out earlier this year, show that the number of managed colonies - that is, commercial honey-producing bee colonies managed by human beekeepers - is now the highest it’s been in 20 years."
Later in the article, Ingraham explains, because of the management practices beekeepers use to keep bees producing and healthy, the price of honey is on the rise.”
Many farmers rely on commercial beekeepers to keep their crops productive. During the Sheridan Research and Extension Center Field Day in mid-July, a pollinator panel primarily discussed ways to improve pollinator habitat. Beekeeper Cliff Reed started off his talk by noting that every one in three bites people eat comes directly from pollinators.
“Commercial bees are responsible for the food in this country,” he said, noting there are about 2.5 million hives in the country. “There is a lot of sweet corn being planted. Beekeepers should have a good year.”
Reed indicated that with CCD, he lost 1,100 of his 1,500 colonies of bees, certainly a real loss. But, as the Washington Post article indicated, beekeepers stepped up to the plate and are keeping up - at a cost. Reed indicated that the varola mite is responsible for most of the bee losses, and because of that, cost of doing business have increased.
“We spent $66,000 on bees this spring,” Reed said. “Certainly the price of honey is up. The price of honey is critical for the commercial operator to survive.”
Everyone can do their part to ensure pollinators keep doing their jobs. Roger Stockton, Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Wyoming State Agronomist, suggested that a visit to a local Farm Service Agency office is a good place to start for someone interested in improving pollinator habitat.
“It’s important to use as many native species as possible. To encourage pollinators to stay and colonize, we should plant a variety of plants so we have some blooming in early spring, spring, mid-summer, late summer and fall,” Stockton said.
Stockton indicated farmers should plant multi-species cover crops and get diversity back in the soil by planting buckwheat, flax or sunflowers, to name a few.
“Plant about 30 percent grass, such as Sudan grass, millet or sorghum. We want to have a 30-foot wide strip of cover crop that we don’t harvest - just let it stand. Not only will the pollinators benefit, so will the wildlife.”
University of Wyoming Researcher Makenzie Benander presented her current research on mixes of annuals and perennials to improve pollinator health and provide a home for parasitoids.
“Flowering habitats have many benefits including supporting pollinators, improving biological control, soil conservation, water regulation compliance and aesthetics. Plan to plant in unused patches and pivot corners,” she said.
Benander noted that providing pollen and nectar is extremely important, as pollen provides protein and nectar, a carbohydrate source. She is currently researching how natural enemies can decrease alfalfa weevils and increase yields.
She encouraged those interested in bee conservation to visit the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at xerces.org.
Information on voluntary Farm Bill programs for pollinator conservation is available. Visit the nrcs.usda.gov website to find programs, assistance and land eligibility requirements.