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Creating Pollinator Habitat on America’s Working Lands

Without pollinators like this honey bee, there would be no apples, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate, almonds, melons, pumpkins and many other tasty foods!

Without pollinators like this honey bee, there would be no apples, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate, almonds, melons, pumpkins and many other tasty foods!

Last week I went to a North American Pollinator Partnership (NAPPC) symposium at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s South Building, just off the National Mall. NAPPC is celebrating 10 years of existence, and the symposium made up day one of NAPPC’s three-day, annual conference, the focus of which this year is “Why Pollinators Matter: Benefits, Challenges, and Outcomes.”

NAPPC is a federation made up of more than 120 partners, including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The organization encourages the sharing of research about pollinators, raises awareness about pollinator-related issues and undertakes initiatives to help pollinators.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators to survive. Pollinators are a crucial component of our food supply and are key to the existence of many other important fuel and fiber crops (like cotton). Without pollinators like bees, butterflies, and beetles, some scientists estimate that at least one out of every three bites of food we eat would not exist. And of course, pollinators are an important part of healthy ecosystems.

One interesting presentation I saw at the symposium was NRCS Chief Dave White’s. He shared how our agency has contributed to the effort to ensure the continued existence of pollinators.

When the 2008 Farm Bill was being crafted in the U.S. Congress, Chief White and others ensured that pollinators and their health and habitat were accounted for—a Farm Bill first. The idea was to increase pollinator populations by helping farmers and ranchers create and maintain pollinator habitat nationwide.

This meant that farmers seeking funding from NRCS’ programs to implement conservation programs on their land would get extra points on their applications if they proposed including pollinator habitat in their conservation plans.

On these working lands, examples of pollinator habitat include wildflower hedgerows, wildflower plantings around the base of orchard trees, wildflowers used as a cover crop to protect fallow land from erosion and wildflower buffers next to rivers and wetlands to help protect water quality. NRCS’ 27 Plant Materials Centers are busy finding the best region-specific native pollinator plantings for farmers across the U.S.

Chief White says he is full of burgeoning confidence in the future of pollinators. With continuing collaboration among NAPPC partners on pollinator issues, lots of new research studies about pollinators and growing public interest in pollinators, it’s easy to see why.

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