In a rural society, it’s easy to see every insect as a pest. The fact that there are more than 5,000 different insect pest species worldwide can cause any seasoned crop farmer to get a little nervous.
But before you spray, know this: For every insect pest out there, there are over 1,700 insect species that we can’t live without. Insects provide about $63 billion in “services” every year. These services include pollination, food sources, other insect or weed control, and healing the soil, just to name a few.
Clint Harrison, a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, says there are at least three things farmers can do to encourage and support various insect pollinators. Harrison is one of several NRCS staff members who provide conservation information for articles on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.
3 ways to help
Harrison works with farmers who are helping these important pollinators. Here are three things many of them do to support pollinators. You could do the same things.
1. Provide food sources. They supply a food source for bees and other pollinators by planting native flowering plants in wildlife habitats. Native plants tend to bloom longer during the growing season, and by providing a variety of flowering species that will bloom at various times during the growing season, you give bees access to food whenever they need it.
Your local NRCS or soil and water conservation district office can supply information on when various wildflowers that could be included in a pollinator planting can be expected to bloom.
2. Use caution when spraying pesticides. Farmers can make a conscious effort to protect pollinators by spraying on calm, dry evenings, soon after dark when bees are not active. Use application setback recommendations near flowering plants, or provide wider wildlife habitat areas to create safe areas for pollinators.
3. Practice no-till whenever possible. Ground-nesting bees live underground. Protect their habitat by adopting no-till so they aren’t disturbed.
Bees aren’t the only pollinators struggling. Bats and monarch butterflies also need protection. If you’re interested in helping pollinators, contact your NRCS district conservationist to find out what programs and practices are available for your area and operation.
When you look at pollination alone, the importance of these insects is staggering. Over 35% of global food production needs pollination, Harrison says.
You’ve probably heard that bee populations have been declining. Many reasons can be attributed to this decline, including reduced habitat, loss of food and increased exposure to broad-spectrum insecticides. When you think of bees, you may think primarily of the European honeybee, but that is just a small component of the overall bee population.
Indiana alone has more than 400 native bee species. These native bees — including bumblebees, digger bees and sweat bees — are important, as well. They’ve been found to be more efficient pollinators than honeybees.