The plight of honeybees, native pollinators and the monarch butterfly have placed a renewed sense of urgency on the development and conservation of habitat for these crucial ecological workhorses. At Ernst Seeds, we developed our Pollinator Approved™ insignia to draw attention to the many grasses, wildflowers and flowering trees and shrubs that provide life giving nectar and pollen foraging opportunities to pollinators. It also seeks to remind farmers, homeowners, government agencies and non-government organizations that the seed mix choices they make can, in fact, provide Pollinator Approved™ habitat.
Researching the Problems
More than one-third of the world’s food supply comes from plants pollinated by bees. In recent years, colony collapse disorder has caused an annual reduction of 30-40% of honeybee populations in the United States. Most experts agree this decline in population can be attributed to a variety of factors, including varroa mites, loss of habitat and off-label use of pesticides.
The iconic monarch butterfly is another example of a declining population of pollinators. The monarch has seen depletion of its over-wintering grounds in Mexico as well as loss of milkweed – absolutely essential for its life cycle — due to increased agricultural production and decreasing marginal farm lands where milkweeds might otherwise flourish.
In 2016, seven species of bees indigenous to the Hawaiian archipelago were added to the endangered species list and brought under federal protection. These were the first species of bees to be listed in the country.
In early 2017, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the rusty patched bumblebee an endangered species — the first such designation for a bumblebee and for a bee species in the continental U.S. The protected status, effective February 10, includes requirements for federal protections and the development of a recovery plan. It also means that states with habitats for this species are eligible for federal funds. Once found throughout 31 states, it has been reported in only 13 states and Ontario, Canada since 2000. Its population has declined 88 percent and the territory it inhabits has likewise dropped 87 percent.
Research has been key to the understanding of the problems facing native pollinators and honeybees. Organizations like the science-focused Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation protect wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.
We’ve partnered with The Xerces Society to offer a number of regional seed mixes approved by, and supporting its efforts. View Xerces Seed Mixes.
Pollinator Partnership’s mission is to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research. Signature initiatives include the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC), National Pollinator Week, Bee Friendly Farming, Monarch Wings Across America, the Honey Bee Health Improvement Project and Ecoregional Planting Guides.
Solutions for Landowners
Increased private sector and government attention to the plight of pollinators such as honeybees and monarch butterflies has spurred a renewed interest in developing pollinator-friendly habitat across the North American landscape. One of the highest level examples of this was the White House announcement of the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators in 2015.
As a result of these alarming declines in pollinator populations, numerous opportunities exist for landowners to help achieve pollinator habitat development goals while ensuring the continued profitability of their land.
To compensate for these declines, many fruit and vegetable growers are now planting pollinator meadows adjacent to their row crops and orchards. These buffer strips, as they are often referred, help increase both honeybee and native bee populations and diversity by providing food and nectar when the cash crop is not in bloom.
In an effort to obtain an agricultural perspective on the challenges and opportunities around pollinator population declines, a pollinator protection project was initiated in 2006 by the FFA Foundation and now operates as a special project of the National Association of State Conservation Agencies. Guided by a national Steering Committee composed of agricultural and conservation leaders, the Native Pollinators in Agriculture Project examines how native pollinators can supplement the pollination services provided by managed bees, and in turn increase on-farm productivity and profitability.
The 2014 Farm Bill retains all of the pollinator conservation provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill and adds targeted support for the creation of honey bee habitat. The 2008 Farm Bill made pollinators and their habitat a priority for The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Most importantly, the 2008 Farm Bill authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to encourage “the development of habitat for native and managed pollinators; and the use of conservation practices that encourage native and managed pollinators” during administration of any conservation program. Learn more about conservation agriculture programs and initiatives available to farmers through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Homeowners, corporations, public and private institutions and agencies are beginning to incorporate pollinator meadows, strips and gardens into their properties. The cumulative effect of ths culture change has the potential to stem the decline of pollinators and restore them to healthy numbers.
Habitat is Key
Pollinator habitat sites are typically composed of a variety of wildflowers, native grasses and legumes (i.e. clovers). Sites should be planted with species that will produce blooms throughout the growing season. Upland and meadow sites are generally in full sun for at least half of the day and have good air circulation. But species choices should also take into account a site’s unique environmental conditions, such as tolerance for moist soils or shade, if necessary. The best habitats for native pollinators are provided by plants native to the ecosystem in which the site is located. We have pre-formulated mixes to satisfy the unique needs of your site. If necessary, we can also create custom mixes.
Pollinator habitat plantings provide benefits beyond attracting and supporting native pollinators. They provide foraging grounds for feral and domestic honeybees. Some of the plant species in these mixes may attract parasitoid and predator insect species that help to control orchard pests. Pollinator habitat plantings also aid in restoring ecological function to the landscape by providing food (insects and seeds) for songbirds and ground nesting birds, such as turkeys and quail.
Public-private partnerships, leveraged with pollinator-friendly habitat legislation has and will be critical to the development of utility sites as pollinator habitat.
Minnesota-based Fresh Energy has become a nationally-recognized source of expert knowledge on solar sites planted with deep-rooted native flowers and grasses that capture and filter stormwater, build topsoil, and provide abundant and healthy food for bees and other insects that are valuable to agriculture.
In 2018 Fresh Energy expanded this work and created the Center for Pollinators in Energy, a national clearinghouse and catalyst for pollinator-friendly solar information, standards, best practices, and state-based initiatives.
The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (MPGC) is a nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across America. We will move millions of individuals, kids and families outdoors and make a connection between pollinators and the healthy food people eat.
Consider registering your meadow with Pollinator Partnership’s Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment (S.H.A.R.E.) program. We are a part of this goal to have 1,000,000 pollinator meadows planted across the country. This free registry is an easy way to make a difference.
Feed A Bee is a major initiative of Bayer CropScience and dozens of partners around the country to increase forage for honey bees and other pollinators, including growing 50 million flowers and providing additional forage acreage in 2015. By collaborating with organizations and individuals throughout the United States, Feed a Bee helps provide pollinators with the food they need not only to survive, but to thrive.
How Ernst Seeds Can Help
Now that you know you want to create pollinator habitat, our handy new Seed Finder Tool can help you find the right seeds or seed mixes for your individual objectives. Or you can go straight to browsing our Pollinator Favorites. You can even save and organize your wish list and notes in our one-of-a-kind new Project Planner. Our 2016-2017 Product Catalog is bursting with helpful information as well. Or you can simply Contact Us and we will be more than happy to give you personal assistance to help you achieve your goals.