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Home > Feature Articles > Landscaping > Plants and Habitat Strategies for Sustainable Landscaping

American Farmers Create 41,000 Acres of Wildflower Habitat for Bees in 2010

Xerces Society wildflowers for bees
The annual value of bee pollinated crops in the U.S. is estimated at $20 billion ... and these bees need sustainable habitat. Farmers are restoring that sustainable habitat.

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You've probably heard that honey bees have been hit hard with the "colony collapse syndrome" in recent years. This disaster is important to all of us because the majority of our food crops are pollinated by bees - both honey bees and native bees.

The annual value of bee pollinated crops in the U.S. is estimated at $20 billion, and includes alfalfa, sunflower, canola, apples, almonds, citrus, berries, pumpkins and other economically important commodities.

All of these bees depend on habitat to survive and thrive. American farmers are taking steps to solve this problem. And their example can be an inspiration to us all to take collective action to improve our critical natural systems.

In 2010 American farmers enrolled in a USDA program to plant 41,231 acres of wildflowers.

This effort, a nationwide attempt to increase the availability of pollen and nectar for beleaguered pollinators, is made possible by new financial incentives established as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Nearly 4,600 farmers signed up for the incentives, which were offered for the first time in the program's 25 year history.

The Conservation Reserve Program is the largest private landowner conservation program in the United States, with up to 32 million acres eligible for enrollment in long-term conservation easements. In exchange for annual rental payments, participating farmers agree to take highly erodible land out of crop production, and establish permanent vegetation to protect topsoil and provide wildlife cover. The USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), typically contracts with farmers to maintain these easements for 10 to 15 years.

"The new wildflower planting incentives represent a monumental shift in CRP," said Eric Mader, Assistant Pollinator Program Director at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a pollinator advocacy group based in Portland, Ore. "In the past, most CRP land was maintained in non-native grasses, which had limited value to wildlife. This change will help pollinators, provide shelter for pheasants, songbirds and endangered butterflies, and can provide global environmental benefits by encouraging deep-rooted prairie wildflowers that help sequester carbon."

Landowners who want to participate are ranked against one another to prioritize enrollments that offer the most conservation benefits. By agreeing to plant at least 10% of the CRP acres in native wildflowers, farmers receive a higher score and are more likely to be selected as program participants.

As a result, nearly 20,000 acres of new CRP pollinator habitat is being established in Colorado alone, with total commitments in Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Washington ranging from 1,200 to 3,200 acres.

This added emphasis on pollinators makes CRP the largest bee conservation effort in North America. While diseases and pesticide use have been implicated in the decline of honey bees, native bumble bees and butterflies, experts also point to habitat loss as a major factor.

Partners for Sustainable Pollination - in California

Organizations like the Xerces Society and the California-based



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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