Pollinators are an essential link in agriculture. Animal pollinators, especially bees, are critical for producing more than one-third of our food products. In fact, bee-pollinated commodities account for $20 billion in annual U.S. agricultural production and $217 billion worldwide. In addition to bees, other pollinators, including butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, wasps, birds, and bats are necessary for pollinating more than 80% of plants in nature.
Since 1986, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has provided millions of acres of vital habitat for honey bees and other pollinators. With abundant acres of legume-rich forage or diverse wildflower plantings, CRP lands offer hives a safe haven from the pressures of modern agriculture—supplying large-scale sources of pollen and nectar that keep bee colonies healthy, and generating millions of dollars worth of honey every year. These same CRP lands offer tremendous benefits to native bumble bees and other pollinators that require diverse wildflowers, shrubs, and safe nesting sites. Analysis by USGS and ARS is demonstrating that CRP in North Dakota is providing habitat that enhances productivity and honey bee health.
The Farm Service Agency is committed to supporting honey bees and wild pollinators through the CRP program. Ongoing efforts aim to increase the percentage of fast blooming forage legumes and other inexpensive wildflowers that have traditionally been a part of CRP plant mixes. New practices, such as the CP-42 Pollinator Enhancement (PDF), offer landowners a way to create longer-lasting meadows of high quality native wildflowers that support pollinators and other wildlife throughout the growing season. Combined, these efforts are increasing pollinator habitat across the U.S.
Landowners and beekeepers should know that honey bee hives are allowed on CRP lands, as long the placement of hives is consistent with the soil, water, and wildlife goals of CRP (see Handbook 2-CRP, subparagraph 634 B). With annual losses of beehives frequently greater than 30% each year since 2006, beekeepers need safe, high-quality forage more than ever. If you are a beekeeper looking for safe ground to place your hives, or a landowner who wants to help the beekeeping industry, consider contracting with beekeepers to permit placing hives on your property.
The Pollinator Habitat Initiative (CP-42) has been designed to provide habitat for honey bees and native pollinator species. Participants of newly enrolled pollinator habitat practices are eligible to receive
CP-42 practices shall be comprised of native plant species although exceptions may be made if diverse native seed mixes are unavailable. The species mix should include a variety of plants that flower at different times throughout the growing seasons, providing pollen sources that are critical for honey bee and native bee health. Planting in blocks is preferred over strip plantings, and each block or strip should be a minimum of 0.5 acres.
Even if not enrolling in CP-42, CRP lands can provide tremendous benefits to honey bees and beekeepers. Consider choosing ‘bee forage’ mixes available under CP-2 (Native Grasses) or CP-4 (Permanent Wildlife Habitat) that are composed of more than 50% forage legumes or other inexpensive wildflower species. Over time, these wildflowers may drop out, but the benefits for beekeepers will be immediate. These same plant mixes also can be used in the enrolled land surrounding CP-42 plantings, to dramatically increase your overall benefit to bees and pollinators.
To learn how to enroll in CRP and create habitat for our declining pollinators:
General Signup CRP – For further information, click here
Continuous Signup CRP– contact your county or state office by clicking here.
National Academy of Science - Status of Pollinators in North America.
Insect pollinators and sustainable agriculture – Article author query
Peter G. Kevan, E. Ann Clark and Vernon G. Thomas – Click here for further information