Guiding Pollinator-Friendly Agricultural Production
This post is written by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN).
The continuous decline of pollinators, especially of bees, has far reaching consequences for agriculture and food production. Pollinators have been negatively affected by pathogens, nutritional problems, climate change and misuse of crop protection products.
Many of the chemicals used in commercial crop protection have severe negative impacts on pollinators and on human and environmental health in general, because of their high toxicity and incorrect application. However, a change in agricultural practices can benefit pollinators directly.
The creation of natural vegetation patches — planted strips of wildflowers — and the application of integrated pest management (IPM) practices can decrease the pressure on pollinators and increase the profitability of crop production.
Contrary to controlling pests by synthetic pesticides, which is one of the most used methods for commercial crop and livestock production, IPM approaches aim to protect crop and pasture health. Different pest control methods are combined, which could include some judicious use of pesticides.
IPM follows the principle that pressure should only be exerted on those pests that could cause significant damage to crops and negatively affect the profitability of production units. This reduces synthetic pesticide use and contributes to biodiversity protection.
The project "Operation Pollinator," led by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), has shown the success of integrating wildflower strips with IPM techniques. The project evaluates the diversity of native plants and beneficial insects associated with designing highly diverse and functional natural vegetation strips for beneficial insects on berry and corn farms in Mexico.
SAN works towards defining and promoting best practices that not only protect keystone species, such as pollinators, but also contribute to insect-friendly productive landscapes.
The activities lead to the integral design of multifunctional areas to benefit pollinators, beneficial insects, and local producers contributing to their integrated pest management. Results include recommendations on the characteristics of multifunctional areas of natural vegetation, characterization of biodiversity conservation practices, and a protocol on how to reproduce and plant beneficial insect host plants in the most practical way.
Other SAN good practices for pollinator-friendly agriculture are:
- Insecticides are not sprayed when crops that provide nectar to pollinators are blooming.
- Non-spray zones and vegetative barriers are established to avoid insecticide spray drift from reaching the core habitats of pollinators.
- Native vegetation is restored and preserved to provide a natural habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.
- Beehives are temporarily covered during the application of insecticides, and a clean water source outside of the treated area is provided.
Furthermore, harnessing technology for improved access to toxicity information and available registered alternatives to harmful pesticides is key to enable pest control with less negative impact on pollinators and their habitats. SAN led the development of the “Pesticides & Alternatives ” mobile app to support reduction of pesticide use and risks, which builds on the pesticide database of the Integrated Pest Management Coalition. The app, which has a multilingual user interface (English, Spanish, Portuguese), counts 5,000+ downloads to date. Some information the app provides includes: non-chemical pest control alternatives for 2,700 pests and diseases, access to toxicity information from government authorities, international agreements and/or academic institutions, as well as the restriction status for major standard systems/labels for more than 700 pesticide active ingredients.
Figure 1: From brochure “Adding value to the IPM Coalition Database: Development of the “Which Pesticide?”- App to support reduction of pesticide use and risks”
An integrated approach of IPM and wildflower strips together with technology to reduce pesticide use has a high potential to attract beneficial insects and to maintain or increase their populations and stabilize local agroecosystems that contribute to a healthier ecosystem.