Select monthly updates from our team of restoration ecologists, entomologists, plant ecologists, and researchers.
The Xerces Society manages the largest pollinator conservation program in the world. We work with farmers, gardeners, land managers, agency staff, and others to create habitat for bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects—and hundreds of thousands of acres of flower-rich habitat have been planted. We also offer certifications: Bee Better Certification for farmers and food companies who are committed to supporting pollinator conservation in agricultural lands, and Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA certifications for cities and colleges dedicated to making the world safer for pollinators.
With staff based in more than a dozen states, and offering a diverse array of expertise, it can be challenging to summarize the impactful work being done by our team of restoration ecologists, entomologists, plant ecologists, and researchers. Therefore, we have compiled select pollinator conservation program updates into monthly digests. April’s featured staff are all Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planners, and are spread across the country—driving the adoption of cover cropping in California, guiding blueberry farmers to become more pollinator-friendly in Maine, and raising awareness of the importance of rangeland for pollinator conservation in North Dakota.
California’s Growing Interest in Cover Crops
Kathryn Prince, Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planner, California
When a California farmer visits their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office, they often want to talk about cover crops. Cover crops are planted to improve soil, rather than for harvest and sale. In addition to building up nutrients and preventing erosion, cover crops are a great resource for invertebrates—including pollinators and beneficial insects. Farmers with pollinator-dependent crops can use cover crops to provide flowers for honey bees and wild pollinators before and after their crop blooms, giving the bees a healthy boost by providing pollen and nectar throughout the growing season. Regardless of whether crops require insect pollination or not, they can also benefit from the pest-eating beneficial insects that cover crops attract.
Cover crops have been also been a hot topic throughout 2019’s season of NRCS field days. I was a speaker at two events in southern California this year. In February, I travelled to Blythe for a cover crop event put on by the Blythe NRCS office. Blythe is a desert town a mere five miles from the Arizona border. The farmers here grow a diverse array of crops throughout the cooler winter months using water from the Colorado River. The event participants wanted to know about cover crop varieties that can handle the blistering heat of the summer fallow season. The Xerces Society has been working with partners to trial insect-attracting cover crop mixes throughout the Central Valley during 2018, and I was able to share our preliminary results—that beneficial insects and pollinators were more abundant in cover-cropped orchards and vineyards than those with bare soil and/or weeds.
My next cover crop outreach event was about 150 miles northwest of Blythe, in the middle of a quiet little orange grove in Mentone, California. Here, a small crowd gathered to attend a field day put on by the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District and local NRCS office. The cover-cropped orange grove was a special sight, since most citrus growers spray heavily to maintain bare ground around their trees. This herbicide-heavy practice is used to avoid the threat of frost in winter, which damages citrus trees. With the appropriate management strategies, however, the risk can be mitigated in other ways.
The response to these cover crop events has been very positive. The day after the Blythe workshop, for example, a participant from the event stopped into their NRCS office to plan a cover crop for the next season. Generating interest in a new idea can take time, even years—much like generating on-farm benefits with cover crops. The soil and populations of beneficial insects slowly build back up once cover crops are established. Cover crops are a long game, but the benefits to farms and the environment are worth it. Increasingly, California farmers are coming to understand and implement them.
Maine Blueberry Growers Take Integrated Pest Management to the Next Level—Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management!
Eric Venturini, Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planner, Maine
The Xerces Society has partnered with the University of Maine’s wild blueberry Extension team and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to incentivize the adoption of pollinator-focused Integrated Pest Management practices in Maine’s wild blueberry barrens. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an ecosystem-based approach to preventing and managing pest issues while decreasing risks posed to people and the environment by pesticides. Pollinator-focused IPM, or Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management (IPPM), looks critically at current IPM approaches, amending management recommendations to support pollinators while also reducing pest issues.
Wild blueberry growers both in Maine’s “downeast” region, and across other blueberry growing regions of the state, have worked with the state’s Extension Service for decades, and closely follow research-based recommendations. This makes this industry the perfect trial ground for our new collaborative approach of offering crop-specific opportunities for growers to take IPM to the next level—IPPM.
Maine’s wild blueberry growers can now implement these ideas with the help of USDA-NRCS cost-share payments—a boon that incentivizes farmer participation. The development team hopes that NRCS cost-shared IPPM will be adopted across hundreds of acres of Maine’s wild blueberry barrens over the next several years.
This approach is already taking hold in other states. In March, the Xerces Society formed a new development team to take this same approach and apply it to apple orchards in New Hampshire. The new team includes the University of New Hampshire’s apple and IPM Extension team, representation from Xerces’ Pesticide Team, the USDA-NRCS in NH, Xerces partner biologists, and a local commercial honey bee keeper. Keep an eye out for updates on their work, too!
Advancing Dialogue on Rangeland as Pollinator Habitat
Sarah Hamilton-Buxton, Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planner, North Dakota
Xerces Society employees in the Great Plains have been working to increase awareness of the importance of rangelands as pollinator habitat. Currently, pollinator conservation efforts primarily focus on planting pollinator habitat, and management of pollinators’ historic habitat, including rangelands, is largely overlooked.
To address this deficit, Xerces staff is working to create a publication, Rangeland Management Guidelines to Support Pollinators in the Great Plains, that discusses rangeland management techniques and the positive and negative impacts each method can have on pollinator populations. In addition to this effort, Xerces Great Plains employees recently attended the Society for Range Management’s annual meeting in Minneapolis. There, we participated in an all-day symposium entitled “Conservation and Monitoring of Native Pollinators.” Not only did this opportunity increase our knowledge of the pollinator research that is being done on rangelands, but also it allowed us to network with researchers and increase Xerces presence in range management circles.
Within in the state of North Dakota, I have also spoken at and/or participated in events put on by organizations such as the North Dakota Chapter of the Society for Range Management and the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition. I have also begun collaborating with researchers around the state to understand ongoing research of pollinators on rangelands and identify knowledge gaps where future research is needed. This will help to focus future work on this important pollinator conservation topic.