Creating a buzz about pollinators
Workshop educates farmers, landowners on native habitat management
Gathering farmers and landowners together to create a buzz about the benefits of pollinator plots was the goal of a recent field day sponsored by the Missouri Soybean Association in Columbia.
Emily Beck, MFA’s natural resources conservation specialist, was among presenters at the Pollinator Workshop, held June 20 at the Bay Research Farm, a nearly 300-acre operation that facilitates research, business and market development and educational programs for the Soybean Association. Other speakers at the event represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Missouri Center for Regenerative Agriculture, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Prairie Foundation. Sessions covered topics such as converting unproductive farmland, grazing native grasses, maximizing pollinator benefits in cover crops and taking advantage of cost-share opportunities.
“Here at Bay Farm, we prioritize any sort of research that is going to benefit the Missouri soybean farmer,” said Brady Lichtenberg, Missouri Soybean conservation programs manager, as he welcomed workshop attendees. “We enjoy doing events like this as well as habitat management to make the farm a little bit more wildlife friendly in areas that can’t be used for research.”
Native habitat management is an important topic as the numbers of critical pollinators such as bees, bats and butterflies decline to alarming lows. According to the USDA, more than 150 food crops in the U.S., including nearly all fruit and grain, depend on pollinators. To reverse the negative trend, government and businesses are relying heavily on farmers and landowners to embrace conservation practices such as planting pollinator plots, which consist of a diverse mix of native grasses and wildflowers.
During the pollinator workshop, Lichtenberg teamed up with MFA’s Beck to show attendees an example of an “edge-of-field” plot, a practice in which the borders of crop fields are intentionally managed to increase plant diversity.
“We’re not going to say take all of your best land and plant it to natives. That would not be a good business decision,” Lichtenberg said. “But we can take some of the less-profitable areas—the odds and ends, waterways and places that are hard to access with larger equipment—and turn those portions of the property into native areas that are going to be wildlife friendly, and specifically pollinator friendly. Pollinator plots offer other ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water filtration, nutrient management and erosion prevention. There are countless benefits to the environment with something as simple as pollinator plots.”
For her part of the presentation, Beck emphasized that, in addition to these benefits, using lower-yielding areas for pollinator plots can positively impact the farmer’s bottom line. She illustrated her point with a precision yield map generated through MFA’s Nutri-Track program.
“We are the Show-Me State. So, this map shows you how these practices can be applied on the farm and where they should be applied,” Beck explained. “When I think of low-yielding areas, I think of input costs. How many times are you using your equipment on that field? How much money are you using for fertilizers, herbicides, different things like that? With these maps, we can see where plots would be best utilized. We aren’t just doing this for the butterflies. You’re taking ground that is not making you a whole lot of money and turning it around to benefit your farm.”
Monetary benefits can come in the form of state and federal cost-share assistance, incentives and technical help to implement habitat improvement projects, said Ryan Lueckenhoff, Missouri Department of Conservation private land conservationist. Choosing the best program to pursue, however, is based on many different factors.
“It depends on the landowner. It depends on the land use. It depends on your goals and objectives. It depends on how many acres we’re dealing with and the time frame that you want to get this completed,” he said. “The best thing is to work with somebody who can help you make those decisions, whether that’s the Missouri Department of Conservation, MFA, the Soybean Association, or our partners with NRCS, Quail Forever and Ducks Unlimited. There are people out there who will provide the information and technical assistance you need.”
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