Special to the Village News
It's National Pollinator Week, but supporting pollinators remains an ongoing endeavor for many California farmers.
Farmers are helping pollinators by planting thousands of acres of forage cover crops to provide nutrition for honeybees and other pollinators that are essential for a variety of commodities, including the state's almost 3-billion-pound almond crop.
"I love paying it forward. Helping the bees is a big issue, so I thought, how can I do my part?" said Butte County almond farmer Darcy Jones. "They come to my orchard, I spend a lot of money to bring them here, and of course be a good host. But I just think it's a great time for people to reassess and think about how to do it better."
Last fall, Jones enrolled in the Seeds for Bees, a program by Project Apis m., a nonprofit organization dedicated to honeybee research that provides growers subsidized cover-crop seeds and technical support. Seed mixes are designed to bloom at times of the year when natural forage is scarce but managed and native bees are active.
Rory Crowley, director of habitat programs for Project Apis m., said the program gives growers an opportunity to try cover crops at a reduced cost.
Jones planted her first seed-mix cover crop between the rows of her orchard last October to increase the density, diversity and duration of bee forage and improve soil health and crop production.
"I'm planting for the bees, and (the cover crop is) supposed to be a soil builder, so I'm adding more nutrients, more nitrogen, to the soil," Jones said. "After it was growing this spring, there was just so much life out there. The most striking thing was the abundance; I had buzzing bees, butterflies and more birds chirping."
Merced County almond farmer Ken Rapp said he contacted Project Apis m. for help and has participated in the program for three years.
"I decided that keeping the orchard floor bare was not good for the soil, so I was quite interested (in planting a cover crop)," Rapp said, adding that he is pleased with the results he observed last season. "I had a lot of bloom during the pollination period and got the biggest crop I've ever had."
Contrary to what he has heard from others, Rapp said, "Having a cover crop during bloom does not interfere with pollination. I'm still learning, but I'm pretty convinced that you can have all of those cover-crop blooms, and the bees are still going to pollinate your crop."
Related to drought, planting cover crops for forage, Jones said, "depends on location and what type of irrigation you have."
Understanding that farmers are facing challenges due to drought, inflation and supply-chain issues, Crowley said, "We are doing absolutely everything at Project Apis m. to help, giving away more, negotiating for better pricing on seed and creating easy-to-use tools that growers can look at quickly and understand what to do and how to do it."
"We have two goals this year: Help growers and beekeepers get through and make a profit and get the bees the nutrition they need to come back strong and do it again next year," Crowley said. He said this year Seeds for Bees is offering a $2,500 credit for the purchase of seed to first-year program participants and a $1,500 credit for second-year participants. Seeds for Bees supplied various seed mixes that comprise mustards, clover, vetch and wildflowers to more than 200 California farmers, who planted more than 12,580 acres of cover crops, according to a 2020-2021 report by the nonprofit.
Participation in the program has increased each year, and more than 86% of participants reported they increased their engagement in honeybee best management practices such as improved pesticide application and better communication with beekeepers, Crowley said. To enroll in the Seeds for Bees program by the Aug. 31 deadline, go to http://www.projectapism.org/seeds-for-bees.html.
Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at [email protected].
Permission for reprinting this item is granted by the California Farm Bureau Federation.