Many plants depend on pollinators for seed production

When producers consider all the work required for operations to be successful in the agriculture industry, they may not think about bees as important contributors. However, in some segments of agriculture, pollinators are critical. 

Importance of Pollinators

“About one-third of the food that we eat relies on pollinators,” Travis Harper, field specialist in agronomy with the University of Missouri Extension, said. “In Missouri, we have a large amount of fruit and vegetable producers, especially in the Amish and Mianite communities, across the state.” Additionally, there are many other commercial fruit and vegetable producers – and all of them rely on pollination from native bees and honeybees for their crops to thrive. 

Most of the grasses in the Ozarks are wind pollinated, therefore pollination isn’t needed for the grasses to grow. However, pollination is required in the development of seeds for some forages. Legume plants, such as clovers and alfalfas, don’t produce seed without pollination. “For us to have seed to plant alfalfa, red clover, and white clover here in Missouri, we are completely dependent on bees to pollinate those crops in the seed producing areas,” Harper explained. 

Protecting Pollinators

There are several management practices producers can implement in order to create a healthy environment for pollinators. For example, be judicious in the pesticides (no matter if it is insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides) used on the operation. “A lot of times we think about we are going to spray an insecticide and that is going to kill the bees, so obviously we are concerned about that. But actually, fungicides and herbicides are toxic to bees as well,” Harper said.

When using pesticides, consider carefully when and how they are applied. First, choose not to spray when plants are in bloom. Secondly, alert beekeepers located near your operation when you plan to apply an insecticide, fungicide, or herbicide. Neighbors with bees can keep them in the hives for a few days so the bees are not impacted by the pesticide application. 

 The labels on some chemicals require producers to check if pollinators are in their area prior to application. A tool producers can access prior to spraying is the website BeeCheck. The site contains a map listing the location of hives and beekeeping operations in the region. 

Creating Habitat

Providing pollinators, especially native bees, with habitat helps them to flourish. Honeybees and native bees need pollen and nectar all year long. They require a wide variety of blooming plants. “The loss of habitat has a greater impact on them than just about anything else,” Harper explained.

Extension specialists recommend allowing areas adjacent to the operation to grow and bloom. Sections left for pollinators could include tree lines, field borders, as well as edges of creek beds and waterways. Lastly, many native pollinators, like bumblebees, nest underground. If producers leave some bare patches here and there, then the pollinators will have places to nest. 

Producers looking to enhance their environment for pollinators have options through local agencies. The Natural Resources Conversation Service (NRCS) offers cost-share programs for producers interested in establishing pollinator plots adjacent to their property.


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