At The Farm GateFarmers natural partners in pollinator effort
It seems an unlikely thought that farmers would respect a plant with “weed” in its name. Yet the last few years, our farm has mowed or sprayed around patches of milkweed in pastures, ditches, field edges and grassy knolls in support of the monarch butterfly. Now, our kids experience and identify this signature orange-and-black pollinator as I did as a kid.
More importantly, scientists estimate that one of every three bites of food directly depends on pollinators like butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, moths and more, a fact more widely celebrated during Pollinator Week in late June. The amount of field edges, ditches and conservation lands under farmer care position farmers to partner in this effort to support the pollinator population.
Illinois farms like ours allow more milkweed to proliferate and other flowering plants to bloom. The state’s private landowners have committed more than 825,000 acres of sensitive lands to government-administered conservation practices sometimes mixed with native blooming plants. Nearly 120,000 of those acres – roughly the equivalent of 120,000 football fields– bloom spring to fall as dedicated habitats for honeybees.
Farmers increasingly voice their desire to support the survival of pollinators, so the Illinois Farm Bureau this year launched a program to financially and technically support members wishing to start pollinator conservation projects. The Farm Bureau created a mowing guide for agricultural landscapes. It sponsored outreach programs and developed a video series to highlight notable projects.
The results are promising. In just 10 years, my kids are spotting more monarch butterflies around the farmyard and seeing more ditch flowers to attract bees.
With proper precautions, pollinators and pesticides also can co-exist. The pesticide applicator training and exam that I completed this winter emphasized the importance of following label directions and noted responsible practices to keep local pollinators safe. Programs like DriftWatch allow voluntary communication between applicators and owners of apiaries. And we find the 4R’s apply to pollinator stewardship as much as agronomic success: Right product at the right rate, the right time and in the right place.
Not to mention, leaving the land better than we found it is the right thing to do.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and farmkids.