All the Buzz
You have finally decided to take some time to yourself and relax a bit in nature. You decide that a hike and picnic are exactly what you need to relieve some of the stressors of life, whatever they may be. You’ve packed your favorite snacks, laced up a pair of shoes that you don’t mind a little dirt on, and headed out the door to share an afternoon of fresh air with nature’s pollinators.
As you take in the sights and sounds of the world, your stomach begins to grumble as if you need a biological reminder to provide your body with some fuel. You spot an area off the trail that has been cleared by hikers before you. Taking a seat on a piece of felled timber that, based on its smooth indentations and pocket knife carvings from those declaring their love to random sets of initials, appears to be the choice resting spot for other passersby, you begin digging through your pack for some snacks.
Studying the decomposing log and imagining the stories it could tell, you pat yourself on the back for being able to identify the Turkey Tail fungus that is proliferating amongst the rotting wood. Your picnic, which you had planned to be a solo event, quickly turns into a free-for-all gathering of local insects. “Insects at a picnic…how quintessential,” you quip to yourself, furiously swatting at their futile attempts to join the party. As you wrap things up and begin your trek back, you find yourself thinking about the unwelcome guests. “Am I really any more entitled to be here than they are,” you ask yourself in a moment of existential guilt for not sharing.
Sure, it is safe to say that your flapping hands, flailing arms, and flicking fingers didn’t disrupt the global insect population, but it is important to remember that, without many of those annoying critters, the almonds, the apple, the blueberries, and the cherries that you snacked on, wouldn’t be possible. That’s why we have decided to explore ways that commercial farmers can help sustain one of mother nature’s most notorious — and threatened — agricultural tools — the pollinator.
It Is 2022 — Do We Still Need to Rely on Pollinating Insects?
We could hearken back to technology that benefits pollinators or discuss the benefits provided by specific species of insects, but sometimes simply presenting some cold, hard facts can be equally, if not more effective. So, to answer the question if we still need to rely on pollinators in 2022, consider the following:
- Roughly one out of three bites of food are possible thanks to pollinators 
- Insects aren’t the only pollinators to consider – there are as many as 1500 species of birds and mammals that provide pollination as well 
- Pollinators produce roughly $20 billion worth of products annually in the US alone 
- Worldwide, pollinators are responsible for nearly 90% of flowering plants 
- Around 35% of the world’s food crops rely on pollinators 
If these five facts don’t put into perspective how vital pollinators are to not only plant life, but putting food on the table of nearly all humans, we’re not sure what will.
In an era of automation, technological advances, and artificial intelligence, it is easy to fall into the mindset that we no longer need to rely on natural processes for many things. So, to answer the question if we really need to rely on pollinators this day in age, environmentalists, farmers, conservationists, and especially entomologists all tend to agree with not only a resounding “YES” but also with “we have no other choice”.
Protecting Our Pollinators – Helping Nature Help Us
According to estimates by the USDA and a study by Michigan State University, the wild bee population in the US was reduced by 23% — and take note, this was only wild bees. This study didn’t take into account the other declining pollinator populations. In fact, the USDA states, “without pollinators, we don’t eat — it’s as simple as that.”
So, what can large-scale commercial agricultural operators do to mitigate the loss of a natural asset that they so often rely on? Let’s explore:
- Reduce or Better Manage Pesticide Use – Chances are, you expected this to be amongst this list. We understand that some inputs like insecticides are a necessary evil, but it isn’t always about if you use insecticides, but more so how you use them. Making sure your application equipment is calibrated will not only potentially reduce your input use, but it can help mitigate excess run-off as well. In addition to calibrating your equipment, agricultural operators can potentially reduce the need for preventative pesticides by better monitoring for invasive pests thanks to advances in technology. For example, Ag-tech startup, FarmSense® gives farmers the ability to remotely monitor pest pressure in their fields. This gives farmers the ability to use pesticides reactively instead of proactively, which can translate to a reduction in pesticide use.
- Be a Considerate Neighbor – Just because your crops are not in a stage of cultivation that attracts pollinators, doesn’t mean that neighboring farms are in the same position. Services like Field Watch can serve as an informative liaison between farmers and beekeepers by identifying active pollinator species or breeders in your area. Considering some pollinators can travel miles from home in search of food, it is far too common for colonies to experience massive population declines simply because a neighboring farmer unknowingly exposed them to pesticides.
- Give a Little Back – Field borders — or buffers as they’re sometimes referred — have long been used to improve plant diversity and provide pollinator habitats. These are exactly what they sound like, borders of native plant life that are planted beside or near your crops. As an added benefit, field borders can also help improve soil conditions and reduce nutrient run-off.
- Better Soil Management – We’ve discussed the countless problems that over-tilling your soil can lead to, but did you know that pollinators rely on soil quality — in many ways — as much as your crops do. By incorporating Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and regenerative agriculture best practices for soil conservation, farmers can not only potentially improve their yield, but they can contribute to the sustainability of their operation as well.
Think Twice Before Swatting Away That Next Pollinator
Okay — perhaps it is acceptable to desire a peaceful picnic in nature and not inviting insects isn’t going to result in a global decline of food supply, but if you’re a commercial scale agricultural operator, the world could really use some positive support of the pollinator populations. If you would like to discuss ways in which you can best sustain the pollinator population around your farm, reach out to your local agricultural extension office. For more information about implementing FarmSense’s® real-time pest pressure detection systems into your cultivation practices, click here to discuss and schedule a demo.