How Attracting Wild Bees and Butterflies to Farms Can Save Farmers Money
“Luring local pollinators to farms can pay for itself in four short years, according to a new study.
Right now in Washington and Oregon, 380,000 honeybee hives are at work pollinating cherry, pear, and apple orchards. Last month, a million hives—three-quarters of the nation’s entire stock of commercial honeybees—were pollinating almonds in the Central Valley of California. Pollination by insects is an essential service, necessary for 71 percent of the top 100 crops worldwide. But it has also become alarmingly expensive and uncertain, as colony collapse disorder and other problems have doubled or tripled the cost of renting honeybee hives.
Why not let native pollinators do the same work for free?
That might be a good idea, except that populations of wild pollinators have also collapsed, largely because intensive agriculture has eaten up huge swaths of former habitat, with no end in sight. When researchers in Utah and Illinois recently looked at four North American bumblebee species, they found that their geographic range had shrunk by as much as 87 percent, and their population by as much as 96 percent, with a significant share of the loss having occurred within the past 20 years.
The developing concern over a different kind of national security—pollinator security—recently led the White House for the first time to include a pollinator garden in its plantings, with the aim of supporting bees and monarch butterflies and drawing attention to their crucial role in food production. A group called Make Way for Monarchs is lobbying for large-scale federal action ahead of National Pollinator Week in June. (It has also called on Americans to “join us in a day of action and contemplation for imperiled pollinators” today.)
Of potentially more lasting impact is that some farmers have begun to ask whether introducing flower strips, hedgerows, and other forms of habitat in the margins of their farms might bring back wild pollinators—and ensure that their crops will get the pollen they need to bear fruit. A new study in the Journal of Applied Ecology adds to the growing evidence that it can work.”