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The Valuable Relationship of Pollinators and Agroforestry

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Pollinators are in trouble. There’s no denying that America has seen many species of pollinators decline over the recent years. Monarch butterflies, honey and native bees and many more are becoming increasingly threatened. Their saving grace could be an unlikely ally: agroforestry.

Agricultural land makes up 40% of the earth. This land produces the food every person on the planet consumes. With three out of every four bites of food being dependent on a pollinator, you can’t deny their importance.

There is an idea that this land can be functional for agriculture while also being a haven for pollinators. It is taking a forefront in the discussion about these declining pollinators.

Agricultural land owners are realizing the benefits of more pollinators on their land. The more pollinator habitat they can create, the more pollinator services will occur regularly. The three main areas of focus when creating a haven for pollinators are foraging habitat, nesting areas and landscape scale considerations.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 10.14.19 AMForaging Habitat:

One of the major causes of the pollinator decline is the lack of habitat. Pollinators simply have no place to find shelter and food. They need a diverse variety of plants at their choosing for the location to be sufficient for them.

If agricultural land owners could provide a full range of habitat needs for pollinators they could see a huge influx of pollinator numbers. Their habitat could be flowering hedgerows, riparian buffer zones and more. Without plausible habitat, pollinators can’t do any of the work so needed from them.

Nesting Considerations:

Many farmers focus on keeping their land tidy. They see a dead tree and they remove it and recycle the wood. However, this way of thinking could be working against pollinators.

Pollinators like bees can use dead plants and trees for habitat. Because the majority of species of bees are individual insects, they need soft centered plants to burrow into and settle in. Dead trees on agricultural land can be utilized for pollinator nests if left alone.

Landscape Scale Considerations:

Against popular beliefs, pollinators enjoy having some space between their nesting sites and their foraging sites. Dedicating a small amount of land and letting it go wild will provide pollinators the space they need to be comfortable and do their important job.

Most agricultural land owners need pollinators to help create a desirable crop. Pollinators need agricultural land owners to create habitat and foraging sites for them to settle into. This land can be multifunctional with enhancements that are beneficial to both parties.

The relationship between agriculture and pollinators gained publicity in 2008. The popular Farm Bill from 2008 mentioned pollinators and cited them as a “priority resource concern” in the bill. A partnership between the two is important for everyone.

The pollinator decline has become a hot topic to many Americans, thanks to the ever-popular monarch butterfly. Agroforestry can become a vital part of the mix to create a broad and valued habitat for the priceless pollinators.

Emma Kessinger

Information for this blog post came from a symposium held by The Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri.

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Read about the life and times of a monarch butterfly.

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