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Why Are Native Pollinators Important And What Farmers Can Do To Protect Them

Annie Morton is an avid nature lover from rural Australia. She has settled in New York City where she currently works for Hoselink USA.

Image by Uschi Dugulin

Image by Uschi Dugulin

The importance of pollinators is well known but recently they are getting more attention. Sadly, the main reason for this is the fact that they are disappearing.

When we talk about pollinators, most people think about the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) — the largest and most widespread species of domesticated pollinators in the world.

But pollinators are not just managed honeybees. They are a diverse group of animals that include insects like native bees, flies, butterflies, beetles, and moths — but also:

  • bats
  • birds
  • other animals.

Even though insects are globally the most important pollinators, all these species are irreplaceable in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. We don’t think about them too often, but pollinators are probably the most important group of animals on our planet.

Native pollinators are ensuring the stability of the world's ecosystem by pollinating more than 250,000 wild flowering plants. Moreover, they pollinate the crops we eat.

Why don’t we pay more attention to these extraordinary animals?

Keep reading and discover why it is imperative to preserve these species, and what is the role of the agriculture industry in this story. Also, it is important to know that you can help protect pollinators by making conscious choices and taking action.

The lack of pollinators can impact food security

If you are still not convinced of how important native pollinators are for us and our planet, try to imagine a world where you can’t buy the food you like.

It sounds frightening — but this is the future we have to prepare for if we continue to neglect the health of these amazing animals.

When you eat bananas, blueberries, pumpkins, and many other fruits and vegetables you should think about native pollinators. That food would not be on the table without moths, birds, bees, solitary bees, hoverflies, and many other animals that are crucial for plant reproduction.

The Royal Society analyzed seven crops in more than 100 big crop-producing areas of the US. Out of seven researched crops, five were impacted by a lack of pollinators.

The research suggests that wild and native pollinators could contribute much to pollination but they are slowly disappearing due to:

  • intensive agriculture
  • excessive use of pesticides
  • habitat loss.

The most troubling examples outlined in the research are California almond farms, where scientists discovered that wild and native pollinators are non-existent due to the reasons mentioned.

On the other hand — smaller and biodiverse farms surrounded by natural habitats are still a place where native pollinators thrive and contribute with their free pollination services.

European honeybees are not the (ideal) solution

Many farmers in the US are dependent on commercial or European honeybees that can easily be transported around the crops that need pollination.

This system works, but — according to reports — we are witnessing a huge loss of managed honey bees in the US. The worst year was 2019, when 40% of honeybees died. When we put this stat into numbers, we are talking about 50 million bees. Last winter beekeepers lost 32.2% of their bees in the US.

So is that the best way to pollinate crops?

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According to the Native Pollinators in Agriculture Project, we should keep the managed honey bees — but also we should pay more attention to native pollinators such as bumble bees, and other native bees.

Pollinators are the key to our terrestrial balance so we should start taking action to preserve them. Besides managed pollinators, we should start relying on native pollinators more. Here are some facts and stats about them and their importance:

Farmers can protect native pollinators. It is good for the environment but it’s also good for their farms.

As previously mentioned, European honeybees are valuable pollinators but their services come with a price. They’re also becoming more and more sensitive as we witness their massive losses from year to year. Protecting native pollinators can serve as a buffer when managed honey bees can’t perform their duty.

Farmers can change their operations and make their farms more welcoming to native pollinators.

Specifically, that means farmers should:

  • create hedgerows and field margins where wildlife can thrive: hedges provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other useful wild animals; these field margins must be pesticide-free
  • plant native plants: native grass, flowers, trees, and other plants that are important for the survival of native pollinators
  • ask for help from the Conservation Reserve Program: farmers within the program are getting paid for creating wildlife areas on their farms
  • opt for climate-smart agriculture: US Department of Agriculture is offering financial help and advice to farmers and forest landowners who decide to start practicing sustainable operations.

California almond farmers are starting to implement more sustainable practices in their operations. According to Almond Orchard 2025 Goals Roadmap they are committed to:

  • lessen the quantity of water used to develop a pound of almonds by 20%
  • accomplish zero waste in orchards
  • expand the use of environmentally friendly pest management techniques by 25%.

What can you do to protect native pollinators

We as individuals — can also take action to protect native pollinators. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, the first thing you can do is to create a pollinator-friendly environment in your backyard.

You can:

  • plant native flowers and other native plants
  • stop using pesticides and go organic
  • build a luxury hotel or just an ordinary condo for native bees
  • start buying local, organic food from farms
  • take action — write letters to decision-makers, and ask for stronger regulations on using pesticides that are a threat to pollinators.

Key takeaways

Almost all flowering plant life on this planet needs help from pollinators to reproduce. This is a fact for both wild plants as well as the plants we eat.

If we continue neglecting pollinator decline in the whole world, it could have devastating consequences for our planet, and ultimately for our quality of life. One of every three bites of food we eat is here because of pollinators.

Wild animals can eat fruits and seeds thanks to pollinators as well.

We can only conclude that we need pollinators — but they need our help. If everyone would make an effort to help, we could change the current pollinator decline trend and enable them to thrive.

But to do that, we ourselves must change. The most important is the agriculture industry, where farmers need to understand that preserving wildlife and biodiversity is in their best interest. Some private homeowners can turn their gardens into wildlife sanctuaries.

Lastly, governments can regulate the private industry more strictly, making sure that the future of pollinators — along with the future of our planet and the future of the upcoming generations — is secure.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 anniemorton

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