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Supporting Pollinators in an Agriculture Landscape

Pollinators can increase yield on many crops and pollinator habitat can serve many additional purposes on the farm. Pollinator accessible cropland has become a targeted measure of the agriculture environment in Saskatchewan with producers likely able to benefit from robust pollinator habitat. Exploring what makes good pollinator habitat and where it might be is a valuable planning practice for producers who want to build a resilient farm for the future.

Pollinator habitat can be thought of in three parts: a place to eat, a place to live and a place to raise young. In many cases, these can be created or found in the same location. This simplifies things for producers and can ease some planning considerations.

A place to eat is flowering plants, shrubs and trees. Pollinators use the nectar and pollen of flowers to feed themselves and their offspring. Having a place to eat can mean having flowers from late April into September for bees like honey bees and bumble bees who are active for a long time. For solitary bees, flies, butterflies and wasps forage available when they emerge helps to provide resources when then need them. A place to eat also means reasonably close to a potential nesting site. Larger pollinators can fly 800 m or more, but 200 m as outlined in the target is a reasonable distance for smaller pollinators to reach from nest sites.

a bumble bee feeding on sainfoin
A bumble bee feeding on sainfoin.

A place to live as adults and raise young overlap heavily too for pollinators. Approximately 70 per cent of our bee species are ground nesting species, with the remainder nesting in woody material. For the ground nesters they often require undisturbed soil, small bare patches of soil, or old rodent and ground squirrel burrow. Land are that is uncultivated, or cultivated infrequently is best for nesting. For the woody nesting species, stems, logs branches and twigs provide nest sites for rearing young and adult resting locations.

Putting the three pollinator requirements together into habitat means leaving some part of you farm uncultivated, maintaining wetlands, willows and shelterbelts, and aiming for a little patch in or on the edge of every quarter section. Larger patches are usually better, but a mosaic of small patches, as little as five m square can be enough to support nesting and reproduction of pollinators within a field.

Good quality pasture land and areas set aside for hay can make excellent pollinator habitat too. Using areas that are poorly suited to annual cropping for hayland is an easy way to make use of poorer areas while supporting pollinators on the farm. As well cover crops as part of a rotation, if planted with appropriate species, can be excellent pollinator habitat.

Numerous colourful flowers where pollinators can reside and eat.
Locations with flowering species
help support pollinators.

Areas of the farm that are poor yielding due to poor or erodible soils, wet and saline areas and awkward field corners are other great locations to place pollinator habitat. Planting pollinator habitat there, or leaving those areas uncultivated can save input cost and put marginally productive area.

Pollinator habitat need not be complicated on the farm. Incorporating it into a rotation or difficult to farm areas can make good use of the habitat while also benefiting the rest of the farm. Besides increased pollination, pollinator habitat can reduce erosion, increase water infiltration, protect wetlands and water quality, store carbon and help maintain biodiversity. Maintaining this resilience on the farm will ensure a health farm for the coming years. In years where forage is short, they can serve as an important reserve for haying if needed too on mixed farms.

Additional information and planning consideration for pollinator habitat can be found in Beelines. The document contains suggested species to plant, site preparation considerations and additional information on creating valuable pollinator habitat on the farm.

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