By Christine Souza, Assistant Editor, Ag Alert
Reprinted with Permission from California Farm Bureau Federation
Seeking to reverse the trend of declining pollinator populations, a broad collection of California agricultural and environmental organizations pledged to meet a shared goal of providing increased habitat for both managed and native pollinators.
The California Pollinator Coalition announced its formation last week. Convened by the Pollinator Partnership, California Department of Food and Agriculture and Almond Board of California, the group includes 20 organizations representing the large majority of California farmland and rangeland.
Coalition members pledge to increase habitat for pollinators on working lands. The new group’s goals include on-the-ground improvements, technical guidance, funded research, documentation of relevant case studies and tracked progress toward increasing healthier pollinator habitats.
“Farm Bureau supports voluntary, farmer-friendly efforts to improve habitat for pollinators, and we have long advocated improved research on pollinator health,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau, one of the organizations to join the effort.
Johansson said Farm Bureau “will work with the coalition for the benefit of native pollinators and managed bees, and to assure stability for the domestic bee business.”
The coalition said the collective land represented by its members will provide the critical mass “to address habitat on an unprecedented scale,” for beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, beetles, wasps, moths and others.
“Collaborative action can mitigate risks to California’s pollinators, and that’s exactly why this coalition has come together,” California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross said. “We need urgent action, yet the first step in the process is building trust that encourages, enables and enhances the result.”
Ross described the coalition as “a big step forward in a journey of grower and conservation groups voluntarily demonstrating leadership.”
Laurie Davies Adams, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Pollinator Partnership, said the coalition acknowledges the urgency to address the critical issue of protecting all pollinators, including native and managed species.
“Agriculture and conservation must work together to achieve this goal, especially when we will be facing many of the same issues—increasing temperatures, erratic and unpredictable weather, fires, drought, soil depletion and more,” Adams said.
She promised that the coalition’s work “will not be a tidy report that sits on a shelf, but rather a metric of acres, projects and species added to the landscape while agriculture continues to profitably feed the nation.”
Coalition representatives said the group will work together on a variety of fronts to support pollinators, by:
Preparing farmer-friendly guidance to build and maintain pollinator habitat on farms and ranches.
Promoting voluntary, incentive-based habitat establishment projects and integrated pest management practices.
Conducting research and disseminating relevant science.
Monitoring outcomes, including adoption rates and the effectiveness of practices.
Josette Lewis, chief scientific officer of the Almond Board of California, said almond farmers rely on managed honeybees for pollination, and know what’s needed to keep them safe.
“With this coalition, we challenge ourselves to extend our efforts to benefit native pollinators as well,” she said.
Lewis said researchers at the University of California, Davis, estimate it costs farmers about $1,700 per acre to establish quality pollinator habitat, particularly hedgerows. She said other published research shows that “the benefit from the habitat is greater than the cost (farmers) incurred.”
“This will not be an easy or quick fix,” Lewis said. “It will require a robust and sustained effort, but we are determined to be part of the solution. Almond growers and many other farmers depend on pollinators to produce a crop and pollinators depend on us to provide safe habitat. Working lands can and should be part of the solution.”
Noting that farmers have taken part in pollinator-friendly practices and programs in the past, participants in a virtual presentation to launch the coalition said its goal is to “scale up” the amount of habitat provided on working lands.
The effort, Adams said, is designed to be “large and comprehensive,” and to encompass different farming and ranching operations and geographies. She added that the effort would include conservation groups partnering with conventional agriculture.
“Bottom line, we want to establish habitat and we want to provide that guidance so that if people have been reluctant, they have what they need to get started,” Adams said. “Best management practices need to be included, not just putting plants in the ground, but maintaining the habitat, so it’s an exciting first step. It’s really a partnership that will produce on-the-ground results.”
The coalition said California is home to more than 1,600 species of native bees and hundreds of other species of pollinating insects.
Globally, pollinators provide service to more than 180,000 different plant species, more than 1,200 crops, and are responsible for producing an estimated one out of every three bites of food. The coalition said pollinators also sustain ecosystems and support natural resources.