BEE Aware: Our Pollinators and Us!
In today's post, we'll be focusing on bees and other pollinators - the role they play in our ecosystem, and what threats to them mean to us. We've all heard about the growing bee crisis and the wide-ranging impact of steep declines in the bee population. Scientists warn us that we've arrived at a tipping point - but what exactly does that mean?
There remains some debate, even within the bee-growing community, about exactly what is to be blame for the demise of the bee population in the United States. However, there is general consensus that there is a variety of contributing factors, and many of them are inter-related. Generally speaking, the changes in farming practices in the United States in the past half century or so have put the welfare of our entire ecosystem at risk. To give you a better understanding of what's happening, and how it impacts all of us, here's a summary of the situation.
Why are bees and other pollinators important?
According to an article published in Yale Scientific in 2013, "Honey bees are nature's primary pollinators: at least 80% of agricultural crops, from almonds to avocados and soybeans to sunflowers, depend on them for growth. Approximately one-third of everything we eat has in some way benefited from honey bee pollination."
What's happening to our pollinators?
The way we farm, and the way we live, has changed a lot in just a couple of generations.
Monoculture farming has changed agriculture practice. Single crop farming demands methods of mass production, and so bees are often transported across the country to pollinate a single crop, taking them away from all other crops. The same Yale Scientific article cited above notes that "Honey bee-pollinated crops are worth $15 billion in the United States annually, in addition to the value of the honey produced...The number of wild bees is decreasing: fewer than 20% of honey bees today are feral with almost none in heavily-farmed regions."
In the old days, farmers grew flowering cover crops as the means to replenish the nutrients in their soil. Today, monoculture farming relies solely on chemical fertilizers to feed the crops. This practice effectively narrow the bees’ food source to single crop. This may be a bad analogy, but what do you think will happen to us if we are fed nothing but almond every day? It’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it?
In addition to chemical fertilizers, the use of pesticides is even a bigger issue. According to a June 2015 Fact Sheet from the Center for Food Safety, "Scientists have identified pesticides - specifically a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids (abbreviated as "neonics") - as likely to be an important cause of declining pollinator populations and poor pollinator health." Neonics are widely used in cotton farming, in fact, "...conservatively, over 100 million acres of cropland, about 57% of the total for these crops - an area the size of California - are directly exposed to neonic insecticides from corn, soybeans and cotton alone."
What does that mean for us?
As the world population continues to grow, our reliance on pollinators, particularly honey bee-pollinators, has never been greater...
If we do not find a way to co-exist with our pollinators, our food base is at risk and could be greatly diminished. When one element of our ecosystem is damaged, the balance of the entire system is thrown off. Without bees and other pollinators, there will not be as many plants, flowers and trees thriving. And as our crops diminish, so too will the health of all other organisms that rely on them, including humans. The quality and diversity of our food could decline, and without proper nutrition, our health will too.
What can we do?
There are some relatively simple actions we can all take to change the tide which will be beneficial to our pollinators, plants, animals and all of us on this planet earth.
1. Marla Spivak, an accomplished entomologist at the University of Minnesota, who has spent years in the studies of bee biology and threats to bee health, suggests one very simple and practical solution: Help provide bees and other pollinators with healthy nutrition by planting bee-friendly pesticide-free flowers native to our area. It is one of those small acts that will make a big difference. As an added bonus, flowers are pretty to look at and smell great too!
2. Say no to pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Whether this means keeping your property free of harsh toxins and/or choosing to purchase products that are toxin-free, your choice sends a powerful message to big industries that rule the marketplace. It's a choice that enhances your health, and with time, could help the health of our entire ecosystem.
The iKotton Team