Growers interested in promoting native bee populations as a back-up to honey bee pollination can now tap into new “how-to” information resources, according to speakers at a Native Pollinators in Agriculture field day held on Sept. 11, in Orange County, CA.
“We are working with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation grants to develop installation guides customized for different agricultural conditions,” reported Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director for the Xerces Society.
Xerces’ California guides are subdivided into versions for southern California, the Central Coast, and the Central Valley. “Right now they are out for final review, but even in rough draft form they are good enough to use,” he told attendees. Additional guides are in the works for Oregon, Pennsylvania, New England, Florida, and the Upper Midwest.
The greatest need for growers trying to tap into native bee pollination services has been practical information on how to encourage native bees, Vaughan said.
Researchers at the University of California-Davis are also working on practical guidance for growers, according to Dr. Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology. “We are looking at what it will take to count on native pollinators to diversify the pollination options farmers have. We definitely have plants that are highly attractive, that grow well and persist well, for people to try,” Williams said. “Where we still have to go is to demonstrate the increase in pollination services.”
Williams’ work targets actions that growers can adopt on their own to increase native bee populations. “We look for California native species that are drought-tolerant, attract a diversity of pollinator species, and provide bloom throughout the growing season. We also want pollinator-preferred plants with reliable growth and available seed,” he explained. An additional priority is that the plants be pest-neutral or even pest-negative (not harboring pests) and non-weedy.
U.S. farmers have established an estimated 60,000 acres of native pollinator habitat in recent years, drawing on assistance from USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pollinator initiative. Under CRP CP42 pollinator enhancement practices, growers who incorporate pollinator habitat into their conservation efforts can earn higher CRP rents. Pollinator initiatives can also qualify for cost-sharing under USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Growers can establish habitat without sacrificing productive acres, according to Mike Omeg, an Oregon cherry producer who attended the field day. Omeg began establishing a habitat for beneficial insects in 2006 with plantings along road banks, fence rows, and other areas that would otherwise revert to weeds. He reports increases of beneficial insects that have helped him control pests like aphids and create better yields for trees near his plantings.
In California, research has already confirmed that hedgerow plantings are effective in supporting native bee populations, according to Vaughan. Meadows, demonstration projects, and dozens of miles of hedgerows designed for pollinators have been planted across the state with support from the NRCS.
In addition to benefiting pollinators, the native habitats improve wildlife diversity, provide food safety benefits by limiting the movement of manure or other contaminants, and reduce erosion.
Xerces’ California guides can be accessed online at www.xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center.
For More Information
Additional sources on native pollinators are available from local NRCS offices, from the Native Pollinators in Agriculture website (www.agpollinators.org), the Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org), and USDA (www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate).