Honeybees have long been the dominant pollinator in North America. Today, roughly 80% of crop pollination is performed by honeybees, with some crops relying almost exclusively on this non-native species. Due the massive decline in honeybees caused by colony collapse disorder, many are looking towards other pollinators to pick up the slack.
The question is are other pollinator species as effective as honeybees?
The truth is that some species are actually more effective than honeybees. Butterflies, moths, and birds all travel greater distances than honeybees. They also target many plants that are ignored by honeybees. Even bumblebees are arguably more effective at pollinating due to their larger size and fuzzy coats that collect more pollen at once.
Best of all, all of these species are native to the US.
If you look at the history of honeybees in North America, it becomes fairly clear that honeybee pollination became popular largely out of convenience. Beekeeping was a common practice throughout the US due to demand for honey and wax-based materials. Apiarists (beekeepers) quickly realized they could gain additional revenue by essentially loaning out their colonies to farmers.
While this worked for a time, the increasing shortage of honeybees has forced the ag industry to face the truth: we rely far too heavily on one species of pollinator.
The solution is to promote pollinator diversity. This can be done by strategically establishing pollinator habitat.
Promoting Diversity in Pollinator Habitats
Like honeybees, many other pollinator species have seen their populations decline in modern times. Unlike honeybees, however, this is not due to a mysterious phenomenon. In most cases, other pollinators are dying out due to a lack of habitat. Monarch butterflies, for example, lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed. Without this native plant, their numbers dwindle.
The good news is establishing pollinator habitat that encourages pollinator diversity is a fairly straightforward process. Different pollinators are attracted to different colors. For example, bees cannot see red. If you’re creating a pollinator habitat, you should have at least three colors of flowers for every bloom period: April – May, June – July, and August – October.
And of course, if you want monarch butterflies (and you should), you’ll need to establish milkweed as well.
While the incentive of increased pollinator presence might be enough for some farmers, others simply don’t have the time or resources to devote to pollinator habitat establishment. This is where CRP can help. The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers market-based rental payments in exchange for taking marginal farmland out of active crop production and establishing native habitat.
Establishing pollinator habitat through CRP is a win-win for farmers, as they still earn money on their land, and they can expect to see a boost in crop yields due to an increase in pollinator presence. If you’re interested in establishing pollinator habitat through CRP, FDCE can help. At FDCE, we provide full-service CRP solutions that take care of seed selection, planting, herbicide application, documentation, and report submission for cost-share reimbursement.
Contact us today to get started!