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The Truth About the Birds and the Bees: Exploring the Pollinator Crisis

Has the Media Blown the Pollinator Crisis Out of Proportion? 

It’s commonplace these days to find stories surrounding the global pollinator crisis sprinkled into the news these days. From Bloomberg to Science Daily, alarming narratives pertaining to the worldwide decline of pollinator populations and the potential societal impact have many people wondering if this is actually a problem that we should be concerned about or if the media has simply blown the pollinator crisis out of proportion. In a world where we’re taught to question everything the media feeds us, it is understandable that the doomsday predictions attached to these stories have left many of us fact checking each and every claim. That’s why we decided to dive into this subject and help readers put into perspective where we really are in the scenario of what is being painted as an impending global crisis.

Honey in the Hive and Food on Our Plate

While all pollinators are equally important in the grand scheme of things, you’ve likely seen the most emphasis placed on the illustrious honey bee. That’s not simply due to the staple food that they’re aptly named after, but because honey bees are responsible for an estimated 80% of pollination amongst flowering plants, which accounts for over 130 varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Before you don that ‘save the bees’ shirt that you dug out from the back of the spare closet that’s typically reserved for dirty sneakers, it is important to consider the significance of the other 20% of pollinators. Let’s look at the entire picture:

  • Pollinators are responsible for roughly one out of every three bites of food that you eat [4]
  • Nine percent of all bird and mammal species are recognized as pollinators [5]
  • Each year, pollinators are responsible for delivering global food supplies valued at up to $577 billion [6]
  • Globally, pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of nearly 90% of flowering plants [7]
  • Roughly 35% of the world’s food crop supply depends on pollinators [8]

Still not convinced? Herein lies a portion of the problem — the fact that many people stop caring or paying attention beyond these fun fact style statistics. Not because they aren’t concerned about the global impact of a pollinator crisis, but because the scale in which we rely on pollinators for our food supply is often delivered to us in a manner that is simply beyond the realm of comprehension. It is a similar predicament as when we’re presented with metrics pertaining to the actual vastness of the visible universe — sure, most people accept that there are a lot of planets out there, but the relatable significance is often lost in translation when you try to explain that there are an estimated 21.6 sextillion planets. That’s 21,600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  

Putting Pollinators into Perspective

The planet example may be a bit extreme, so let’s bring things back down to earth. We know that there are roughly eight billion humans in the world, but even this number can be difficult to grasp.

Consider the following example to help put things into perspective: There are a little over 86,000 seconds in a single day. 1 million seconds is equal to 11.5 days. Seems reasonable, right? Scaling up to 1 billion seconds, we jump to 31.71 years. So, those 8 billion humans inhabiting the earth? In seconds, that would be equivalent to over 250 years. And what’s one common need that those 8 billion humans share — the need for regular nutrition…FOOD.

To further paint the picture, analysts estimate that by the year 2050 — less than 30 years from now — we will need to double the number of crops grown to support our rapidly growing population.

We implore you to take a moment to let those numbers sink in and re-read the pollinator facts from earlier. Perhaps they hit a little closer to home the second time around — as they should.

What is Causing the Decline in Pollinator Populations?

Although solving the problem would be much easier if we could simply — and definitively — point our finger at a single culprit, the task isn’t that easy. Evidence suggests that there are several contributing factors behind pollinator decline over the past century, including, but not limited to:

  1. Habitat destruction
  2. Commercial pesticide use
  3. Parasites and pathogens
  4. Climate change
  5. Environmental pollutants

How Can Farmers Help Give Pollinators a Boost?

Given that entire dissertations have been composed around this very topic, it is unlikely that insight provided by this article will provide the golden ticket. Instead, the target intent here is to raise awareness within the demographic that maintains one of the closest working relationships with pollinators — commercial farmers.

Even though there is a common misconception that implementing pollinator-saving tactics in a commercial operation will mean costly changes for farmers, there are actually several measures that commercial agricultural operators can take that may actually reduce operating overhead, and crop loss, all while improving sustainability. For a deeper dive into these methods, we recommend checking out our multi-part series around regenerative agriculture. As a primer, regenerative agriculture practices are based on four pillars of thought:

  • Enhancing and improving soil health
  • Optimizing resource management
  • Alleviating the effects of climate change
  • Improving water quality and availability

Are Pesticides as Problematic as They’re Portrayed?

Truth be told, the manner in which modern pesticides are currently used in commercial agriculture settings could be more problematic than evidence suggests. This is due to the fact that many farmers take the spray and pray approach to pesticide application. This method, which is largely a preventative tactic, often leaves large swaths of collateral damage in its wake — including beneficial insects and pollinators. 

With upwards of a billion pounds of pesticides used each year in the US, concerns of excess runoff, seepage into the soil and waterways, and unintended damage to beneficial species, farmers should be worried about more than the cost of these chemicals — they should also be concerned with the long-term sustainability of their cultivation methods.

Fortunately, regulatory agencies are — albeit slowly — revising pesticide application codes and regulations in an effort to curb the ecological damage. Be sure to check out next month’s blog article where we will explore the evolving landscape of global pesticide regulations and sustainability measures.

There’s a Pollinator Crisis, but my Farm Relies on Pesticides

We’re with you! We recognize that pesticide use is a necessary component of most modern farming operations, and we don’t necessarily have an issue with pesticides themselves, but instead with how they’re often irresponsibly used. If you’ve made it to this point of the article, you hopefully better understand the scale of pollinator’s role in our day to day lives. That said, if you’re a farmer, you’re probably scratching your head trying to figure out a way to reduce your contribution to said population decline.

Fortunately, we’ve entered an era where agriculture and technology are beginning to merge, a move that will likely prove to be paramount in the future of farming. Companies like ag-tech startup, FarmSense, are paving the way to a sustainable future. FarmSense has released a revolutionary device that is capable of not only aiding farmers in their quest to reduce pesticide use but reducing their overall carbon footprint as well.

FarmSense’s award winning and internationally acclaimed device, the FlightSensor, is poised to change how farmers monitor their crops. The FlightSensor, using AI and machine learning, provides proven real-time metrics and classification of pest presence, directly to your smartphone or computer. This means no more lag time as your day-labor drives from sticky trap to sticky trap, making half-hearted notes of outdated pest presence. With this type of intel, farmers are in a better position to know what, when, and where pests are in their fields, in real-time. This translates to the ability to apply targeted pesticides during peak activity levels, instead of recurring and hopeful just in case applications. A monumental step forward in commercial agriculture sustainability.

If you would like more information on FarmSense’s FlightSensor or would like to schedule a demo in your own fields, reach out to their customer service team, who will be happy to help!

References:

  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-06-27/bee-hive-wipeout-is-crimping-harvests-as-crisis-enters-new-stage
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/08/210816112104.htm
  3. https://www.farmers.gov/blog/value-birds-and-bees#:~:text=The%20plight%20of%20pollinators&text=Honey%20bees%20alone%20pollinate%2080,of%20many%20other%20pollinator%20species.
  4. https://www.ree.usda.gov/pollinators#:~:text=Pollinators%2C%20most%20often%20honey%20bees,decades%20in%20the%20United%20States.
  5. https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/conl.12162#:~:text=1996%E2%80%932008).-,Discussion,or%20inferred%20to%20be%20pollinators.
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bayer/2019/10/14/the-value-of-pollinators-to-the-ecosystem-and-our-economy/?sh=17914dca7a1d
  7. https://www.growingagreenerworld.com/the-importance-of-pollinators/#:~:text=Pollinators%20are%20vital%20to%20creating,of%20the%20world’s%20flowering%20plants.
  8. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/
  9. https://skiesandscopes.com/how-many-planets/
  10. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/oki-water/science/pesticides?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

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