While National Pollinator Week has buzzed by, opportunities for boosting local populations of bees and other pollinators and harnessing their value may be just beginning. Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds ensure plant cross-pollination and genetic diversity. But the decline of natural food sources for pollinators has been linked as a causative factor in declining pollinator populations.
Development of native pollinator habitat is something in which everyone can play a part, and many already are, according to Calvin Ernst, president of Ernst Conservation Seeds, Meadville, Pa. "Farmers are taking advantage of Farm Bill incentive programs to develop habitat without losing the profitability of their land.
"Conservation organizations are educating and mobilizing habitat development through their grass roots efforts." Together, each of these individual actions is making a difference every day. "At the end of the day," says this Pennsylvania Master Farmer, "it's good to know that so many concerned groups and individuals have committed themselves to this issue. Knowing that our research and our seeds are a part of those efforts is very satisfying."
Pollinator habitat usually includes a variety of wildflowers and sometimes native grasses. Typically, it will produce blooms for the majority of the growing season. It may be formulated to have minimal bloom when an economic crop is blooming, or to have continuous bloom.
Some plant species in a pollinator habitat provide benefits beyond attracting native pollinators. Pollinator habitat may attract parasitoid and predator insect species that attack orchard pests, helping to control populations of some insect pests, says Eric Mader, assistant pollinator program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. In addition, pollinator habitat meadows can serve as foraging grounds for honeybees.
Agricultural producers across the nation work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to create ideal habitat for pollinators and increase populations in simple and significant ways. In New Hampshire, for instance, producers plant conservation cover, field borders and hedgerows. These conservation activities, or practices, are just three of 37 that NRCS offers through the Farm Bill to help producers create the perfect places for pollinators to forage and take shelter.
"Making room for pollinators on your farm isn't too difficult or expensive, and NRCS wants to help you make those improvements that will not only benefit pollinators – but help your land as well," says New Hampshire State Conservationist Rick Ellsmore.
"We're finally learning more about the many benefits that come from encouraging native pollinators. And, we're increasingly able to help farmers with practical guidance on how native bees can improve their operation," adds Ernie Shea, project coordinator for the Pollinators in Agriculture Project. For more this program, visit www.pollinator.org .
For more on Ernst Conservation Seeds, visit www.ernstseed.com. Catch the NRCS link at www.nrcs.usda.gov/pollinators.