California Farmers Plant Bee-Friendly Habitat to Bolster Populations

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 25, 2011.  Farmers in California and other states have begun planting bee-friendly flowers and shrubs to attract bees, whose populations have been severely declining in recent years under a complex set of circumstances. Farmers hope to sustain native bees and strengthen dwindling honey bee populations as well as lower their pollination costs. For many farmers that rely on bees to pollinate their crops, creating safe bee habitat and reducing chemical assaults can help stem the tide of declining pollinator populations.

These efforts, organized by the Xerces Society, a Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit group, and other organizations are aimed to educate and help farmers boost dwindling wild pollinator populations needs to pollinate their crops. According to Xerces Society, as part of their pollinator conservation program, farmers and land managers are trained with the latest science-based approaches to reversing the trend of pollinator declines. California farmers are provided seeds for native plants like wild rose, aster, sage, manzanita, and other shrubs and trees to entice bees. New bee habitat can also reduce a farmer’s costs and alleviate the stress on honey bees.

“For bees to thrive, they need a diverse diet, so we’re trying to bring more pollen diversity to farms, more plants to be part of the bees’ buffet,” said Mace Vaughan, Xerces Society’s pollinator program director. “This isn’t a panacea to pollination woes. This is part of the solution overall.”

The effort comes as honey bees, maintained by beekeepers, and native, or wild, bees are perishing in great numbers. Bees are essential pollinators of about one-third of the U.S. food supply, and they’re especially important in California, the nation’s top producer of fruits and vegetables. This makes the pollinator problem dire in this state, where large farms often grow single crops that rely on pollination and don’t offer bees a varied diet.

The die-off is blamed on colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly die. The disorder has destroyed honey bee colonies at a rate of about 30 percent per year since it was recognized in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before that, about 15 percent of colonies died per year from a variety of pests and diseases. Researchers aren’t sure what causes the disorder, but they suspect a combination of stressors, including pesticides, mites and parasites, and lack of proper nutrition.

The California State Beekeepers Association is also helping farmers to improve habitat. Run by Project Apis m., which funds and directs research to improve the health of honeybees, the program has enlisted growers to dedicate acreage to bees and is identifying which seed mixtures make for best bee forage on farms and in orchards. According to project Aphis m., emphasis is placed on research studies that have realistic and practical usefulness for beekeeping businesses.

“We want to make sure bees don’t starve to death before and after almond pollination,” said Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. The goal, Ms. Heintz said, is to make it economically viable for farmers to plant bee habitat. One option, Ms. Heintz said, is to plant a bee-friendly crop that can be used as biofuel, such as canola and camelina. Another is partnering with the cosmetics industry, growing oil seed plants such as cuphea and echium that are used in creams.

The decline of wild pollinators received increased attention in the late 1990’s when researchers identified the need for action to understand and protect them, though others warned of the threat earlier. Wild pollinators, which include non-Apis species of bees, wasps, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, and even some non-flying mammals, have suffered “multiple anthropogenic insults” in the last several decades. These include habitat destruction and fragmentation, pesticide use, land management practices and the introduction of non-native species and pathogens, all of which collectively threaten their existence. Read Beyond Pesticides’ factsheet: “Backyard Beekeeping” on what you can do to boost pollinator populations.

The loss of pollinators appears to have multiple interacting causes including pathogens, a range of evidence points to sub-lethal pesticide exposures as important contributing factors. Neonicotinoid pesticides, like clothianidin and imidacloprid, are a particularly suspect class of systemic insecticides, especially in combination with the dozens of other pesticides found in honeybee hives. Read more about imidacloprid and the controversial regulation of clothianidin in “Protecting Pollinators: Stopping the Demise of Bees.” The use of chemicals in agriculture has been found to damage bees by weakening their immune systems. Laboratory studies show that some insecticides and fungicides can act together to be 1,000 times more toxic to bees. They can also affect the sense of direction, memory and brain metabolism, and herbicides and pesticides may reduce the availability of plants bees need for food and for the larval stages of some pollinators.

Solutions to the loss of bees and other pollinators are clearly within our reach if we engage our communities and governmental bodies. Beyond Pesticides is embarking on a campaign to protect pollinators from unnecessary toxic chemical exposure by reframing how we approach policies that allow the continued use of unnecessary chemicals for which there are safe alternatives. For more information, visit our Pollinators and Pesticides program page.

Please join Beyond Pesticides in celebrating our 30th Anniversary at a reception with live music and screening of “Vanishing of the Bees” on Thursday, October 27, 2011 in Washington, DC. Featured beekeeper David Hackenberg, who first discovered colony collapse disorder (CCD), will be with us to introduce the film. RSVP today.

Source: Star Tribune, beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.