Providing for honey bee habitat
By Ryan Crossingham
The North Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Services has funding available to help producers provide floral forage habitats that they hope will benefit pollinating species on the state’s working lands.
The new available funding has led the NRCS to begin the Honey Bee Pollinator Effort, which aims to leverage existing capabilities and resources to provide assistance, with the help of local partners and state officials, where it is most needed.
The Honey Bee Pollinator Effort aims to provide rest and safe, high quality feed for pollinators in order to increase colony survival.
“A goal is to try and provide flowering habitat for when they are here for the season,” said Rhonda Nelson, a soil conservationist for NRCS. “Ideally, perennial plantings with flowers that bloom throughout the season will be best for honey bees and all pollinators.”
According to Nelson, there’s been a 50 percent decline in managed hives since the 1950s, and up to 100 percent decline in wild colonies.
“A goal is to try and provide a perennial habitat with a lot of flowers for them,” said Nelson. “Early flowering habitat may be the biggest target.”
There are five states involved in the Honey Bee Pollinator Effort: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
“It’s the first year of this program, so hopefully we can get some concerns identified that would focus beyond just providing habitat for honey bees,” she said.
Nelson also believes that the NRCS needs to focus their attention on their pest management and alter their requirements.
“We could provide all the habitat we want, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good habitat, or safe for honey bees and pollinators,” said Nelson, who defines “safe” as free from pesticides and disturbance. “Pesticides would encompass herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and even neonicotinoids. It’s tough to find seed that hasn’t been treated.”
The Honey Bee Pollinator Effort is promoting the seeding of cover crops for honey bees, which could become problematic because a lot of those seeds are going to already be treated.
“Burleigh County is a huge promoter of implementing cover crops, but now with knowing what they know about seed treatments, they will be taking it to the next step, talking with producers and seed dealers, and asking if it’s possible to get seed that’s not been treated,” said Nelson.
Through research, scientists have discovered that many seed treatments are not only systemic, but they accumulate in water, which poses additional risk to pollinators.
“Bees need water, so if there are wetlands around, they’ll go to them for water,” said Nelson. “That’s water that we think would be safe, but in reality, it’s not. Plants also exude water and bees will forage on soybeans and corn pollen, because, in some places, that’s all there is to offer. It’s do or die. They will drink water from that plant’s leaves which could be loaded with neonicitinoids.”
According to Nelson, healthy pollinators themselves are very beneficial to farmers.
“Pollinators are needed for every one in three mouthfuls of food and beverage we consume,” said Nelson. “Even a majority of our vitamins and minerals are because of bees and their ability to improve plant vigor. Pollinators improve plant vigor, and in turn a healthier plant produces healthier food, with more vitamins and minerals. Not only will an effort for pollinators be beneficial to farmers, but also to the public and the consumer.”
Nelson is hopeful that farmers in all five of the cooperating states, no matter what they grow, will get a benefit from this effort.
“We need pollinators, and they need us,” said Nelson. “I really hope this effort becomes something big. Actually, we need it to become something big and we need to care about all of the pollinators, not just one.”
Along with the Honey Bee Pollinator Effort is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to eligible agricultural producers to help with the planning and implementation of conservation practices that address pollinator production.
NRCS, through the help of the EQIP, will utilize conservation practices that are beneficial to pollinator production on both cropland and grassland.
For more information on the Honey Bee Pollinator Effort of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program please visit the NRCS website at www.nrcs.usda.gov.