The Xerces Society provided nine Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Courses in nine states over the course of two years for staff from the NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Certified Crop Advisors, the FSA, and Extension personnel, as well as farm organizations and individual farmers. More than 400 people participated in the Short Courses, for an average of 46 participants per course. Follow up surveys show that these Short Courses improved the attendee’s skills and capacity to implement pollinator conservation efforts such as installing conservation buffers, Integrated Pest Management to mitigate harm from pesticides, and tillage reduction to protect ground-nesting bees.
A new article in the prestigious journal Science (Garibaldi et al. 2013) clearly shows native bees make a significant contribution to crop pollination. The study has prompted a renewed call to maintain and manage pollinator diversity for long-term agricultural production. It suggests that new practices for integrated management of both honey bees and wild insects such as conservation or restoration of natural or semi-natural areas within croplands, addition of diverse floral and nesting resources, and more prudent use of insecticides will enhance global yields of bee-pollinated crops and promote long-term agricultural production.
Our Short Courses have been providing just such information to agricultural professionals.
Each Short Course includes an overview of pollinator biology, conservation practices that support pollinators, relevant habitat management guidelines, an overview of the latest research findings, and an overview of how to implement pollinator conservation programs authorized in the Farm Bill.
Based on surveys conducted immediately after and later (one year after each event), we have found that outcomes included increased awareness of pollinator population trends and specific practices to conserve these vital insects. Field staff from the NRCS, FSA, Extension, and Soil and Water Conservation Districts who attended the Short Courses went on to directly implement pollinator conservation strategies with their client farmers. Thousands of acres of land are being managed for pollinators as a result of these trainings. Our surveys show that over the long term this project will result in increased participation among growers of bee-pollinated crops in USDA conservation programs like EQIP, CSP, and CRP.
We conducted full day Short Courses in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio in the North Central Region (prior to this project we conducted earlier SARE-supported Short Courses in Minnesota and Wisconsin). Our specific performance target for the Pollinator Conservation Short Course was to reach at least 30 participants at each event. We greatly surpassed this goal by reaching 417 participants, averaging 46 people at each course.
Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of more than 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants (Ollerton et al. 2011). This includes more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species, whose fruits and seeds together provide over 30 percent of the foods and beverages that we consume (Klein et al. 2007). Despite this, the essential service of pollination is at risk. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, as well as pesticide use, and pathogens have all contributed to recent pollinator declines.
The economic value of insect-pollinated crops in the United States was estimated to be $20 billion in 2000 (Losey & Vaughan 2006). Included in this value are crops of major economic importance in the central U.S. such as sunflower, canola, forage seed like alfalfa and clover, pumpkins, apples, and numerous other fruit and vegetable crops.
Research on crop pollination has demonstrated that native bees make a significant contribution to crop pollination—in some cases providing one hundred percent of pollination when enough habitat is available (Kremen et al. 2004). Today, these native pollinators are more important than ever as hives of European honey bees become more expensive and difficult to acquire because of disease, pests, and – in the last few years – Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been covered extensively in the media.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 20,000 species of bees (Michener 2000), with approximately 4,000 species native to the United States (Winfree et al. 2007a). Native bees provide free pollination services, and are often specialized for foraging on particular flowers, such as squash, berries, or orchard crops (e.g. Tepedino 1981, Bosch & Kemp 2001, Javorek et al. 2002). This specialization results in more efficient pollination and the production of larger and more abundant fruit from certain crops (Greenleaf & Kremen 2006, Klein et al. 2007). Native bees contribute an estimated $3 billion worth of crop pollination annually to the U.S. economy (Losey & Vaughan 2006).
Protecting, enhancing or providing natural habitat on farms is the best way to conserve native pollinators (Kremen et al. 2007) and, at the same time, provide pollen and nectar resources that support local honey bees. On farms with sufficient natural habitat, native pollinators can provide all of the pollination for some crops (Kremen et al. 2002, Kremen et al. 2004, Winfree et al 2007b).
The 2008 Farm Bill contains specific language that makes pollinators a priority of all USDA conservation programs. At the state and national level, the USDA-NRCS has developed guidelines on how to provide pollinator foraging and nesting habitat in agricultural landscapes, but the knowledge necessary to implement these habitat enhancements has not been cultivated at the field office level.
That lack of knowledge represents a key constraint to the wider adoption of pollinator conservation. A recent NRCS survey documented that farmers want to provide additional habitat for pollinators but need technical assistance to do so. These Short Courses provided a mechanism for developing that technical support expertise among farm educators.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
This project was supported by the pollinator conservation Short Course curriculum developed by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Wherever possible, the Short Course curriculum was supplemented by presentations from conservation experts based in each individual state including the NRCS State Wildlife Biologists and Plant Materials Center Managers (responsible for implementing Farm Bill pollinator conservation initiatives), native seed producers involved in pollinator conservation efforts, academic researchers, and Extension entomologists. Guest speakers spoke about conservation programs available to farmers, current research about pollinator conservation in the area, and specific field trials and their results from pollinator conservation efforts in the region.
The classroom component of the Short Courses was supplemented by an open lab period to observe pinned native bee specimens, native bee nest materials, and informational displays.
Wherever possible, Short Courses included an outdoor field component to observe and identify pollinators, identify habitat resources, and discuss on-site land management practices that impact pollinator diversity and abundance. To accommodate this field component, workshops were typically conducted at NRCS Plant Materials Centers, university research stations, or rural sustainable agriculture institutions.
Workshops concluded with a discussion of local technical and financial resources to support the independent ongoing efforts of workshop participants and the farmer-constituents they serve.
Outreach and Publications
The Xerces Society developed the full-day pollinator conservation Short Course curriculum, which includes both classroom and outdoor components. A sample Pollinator Conservation Short Course agenda typically includes the following sessions:
Module 1. Introduction
• Pollination economics and the role of bees in commercial crop production
• Pollination biology
• Colony Collapse Disorder and honey bee industry trends
Module 2. Basic Bee Biology
• Bee identification
• Understanding bee life cycles
Module 3. Bee-Friendly Farming
• The value of natural habitat
• Reducing pesticide harm
• Protecting nesting sites
Module 4. Habitat Restoration
• Habitat design considerations
• Plant selection and seed sources
• Site preparation and planting techniques for wildflowers
• Long-term habitat management
Module 5. Field Laboratory (outdoors)
• Habitat assessment exercise and land-use discussion
• Examination of live bee specimens, artificial nests, and display materials
Module 6. USDA Support for Bee Conservation
• Using Farm Bill programs and practices for bee conservation
• Conservation grants available through the USDA programs
• Conservation case studies
Module 7. Additional Resources
• Accessing additional technical and financial support
We conducted the full day Short Courses in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio to 417 participants, averaging 46 people at each course.
To evaluate specific outcomes and impacts, written evaluations were given to each Short Course participant immediately following the course.
Of agricultural support staff respondents, 96% reported that the Short Course changed how they intended to advise farmers about farm management practices to support pollinators. Of those, 95% said they intended to incorporate pollinator habitat enhancement into already-existing trainings on Farm Bill conservation programs. Respondents reported that they would educate farmers on the following subject matters: providing additional habitat for pollinators (28%), encouraging enrollment in NRCS administered conservation programs (24%), considering the pesticide impacts on pollinators in pest control decisions (23%), and adjusting land management practices to benefit pollinators (21%) (Fig. 1).
Of the farmers and landowners who responded to the post Course evaluation, 95% said they intended to change how they supported pollinators on the land they manage. More specifically, these respondents reported that they would manage their land to support pollinators in the following ways: provide additional habitat for pollinators (38%), adjust land management practices (tillage, mowing, etc.) to increase pollinator abundance (23%), enroll in NRCS administered conservation programs for pollinators (17%), and consider pesticide impacts on pollinators in future pest control decisions (16%) (Fig. 2). These farmers and landowners reported to collectively manage approximately 9,863 acres of land.
One year after each Short Course a follow up survey was sent to all attendees. The survey was intended to see if and how participants had been using the information gained from the Short Course. We received an average response rate of 37% from both years of surveys.
In the year since participants attended the Short Course, 97% of respondents reported that they had utilized the information they learned at the training. Participants utilized the information in the following ways: in education and outreach programs to their peers (65%), providing additional habitat (59%), assisted others (farmer-peers) in implementing pollinator conservation practices (55%), incorporated pollinator conservation practices into their land management systems (45%), enrolled, encouraged, or assisted with enrollment in NRCS conservation programs (41%), considered pesticide impacts on pollinators (38%), included pollinator conservation information in written publications (37%), and adjusted land management practices to benefit pollinators (32%) (Fig. 3).
These results indicate that we were highly successful in our initial project objectives: to provide a train-the-trainer approach to expanding pollinator conservation efforts, facilitating the installation of additional habitat on the ground, and encouraging enrollment in NRCS and FSA Farm Bill conservation programs.
As part of our follow up survey, we asked participants to report on the number of habitat acres they had created and/or managed for the benefit of pollinators since attending the Short Course.
Based on survey results, we conservatively estimate that these Short Courses led to improved conditions for pollinators on over 11,000 acres. In 2010, respondents reported that they had implemented or helped implement changes in land management to benefit pollinators on 2,578 acres of land. This is a very conservative estimate, and we believe the actual acreage to be much higher. In 2011, we altered this question in order to tease out a better estimate of acres affected by allowing participants to write in an answer instead of selecting a range of options (i.e., in the 2010 survey we asked participants to select > 1, 1-3, 3-6, 7-10, 10+ acres instead of having the option to write in a number). Participants from 2011 Short Courses reported that they had created (through wildflower establishment) 4,475 acres of habitat for the benefit of pollinators. They also reported to have changed pesticide practices on 1,980 acres of land and adjusted management practices on 2,158 acres of land.
As part of our follow up survey, we felt it was also important to gain knowledge of the impediments to pollinator conservation so that we can work with practitioners to surmount these obstacles. Many barriers such as, “worried habitat may provide haven for pests or weeds” or, “Unfamiliar with how to plant the proper habitat” can be easily dealt with through additional education and through a follow up workshops on wildflower plot establishment (Fig. 4). Other issues were cost and the difficultly with applying for government funding. Xerces has provided documents and training on how to successfully navigate Farm Bill conservation programs. We are also working with seed companies to expand the number of native species available and to lower costs, and we are also working to get higher cost-share payments through Farm Bill conservation programs. Overall, these survey questions help us effectively use our time to surmount the obstacles.
- Fig 1: Agricultural Support Staff Plan to Advise Farmers to Protect Pollinators through Multiple Practices
- Fig 3: Information gained from the Short Course was used by participants in multiple ways.
- Fig 4: Barriers Encountered by Participants to Pollinator Conservation
- Fig 2: Farmers Plan to Support Pollinators on their Land through Multiple Practices.
More than 400 people participated in the Short Courses in nine different states, for an average of 46 participants per course (our overall performance target was 270 total participants). The primary audiences at these events were staff from the NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and Extension, as well as a number of individual farmers, researchers, master gardeners, naturalists, and beekeepers.
The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Below is a sample of feedback we’ve received from participants:
“Excellent presentation, packets, and speaker! A+”
Agricultural Support Staff, Iowa Workshop
“More than fulfilled! This was an excellent day. Thank you Jennifer and Xerces.”
USFWS Biologist, Kansas Workshop
“I wanted to learn enough to provide support to local volunteer efforts to conserve pollinators- and I feel much better prepared now. Thanks.”
Park District Employee, Illinois Workshop
“Everything [was important]! I have really had an eye opening experience…. This was an excellent presentation and benefited me greatly. Thank you!”
SWCD Employee, Michigan Workshop
“Expectations met and exceeded. This was fantastic! I want to help you offer this in my area too!”
Farmer, beekeeper, and coordinator of master naturalist program, Ohio Workshop
“I came to learn more about native pollinators and you did a great job teaching me.”
Biologist/Entomologist Agricultural Support Staff, Indiana Workshop
“I wanted to learn more about bee pollination and you covered all my expectations. Thanks!”
Biologist/Entomologist, South Dakota Workshop
“Excellent program, great information! Jennifer does a wonderful job.”
Biologist/Entomologist Agricultural Support Staff, South Dakota Workshop
“Beyond my expectations. Jennifer did an excellent job.”
Horticulturalist, Ohio Workshop
“I wanted to learn basic ID skills for bees and learn about how to promote their conservation. It was FANTASTIC!”
Agricultural Support Staff, Nebraska Workshop
“[My expectations?] To hear more about pollinator basics and land management/conservation tactics. Yes, they were fulfilled! Xerces rules!”
Biologist/Entomologist, Nebraska Workshop
Through this project, farm educators gained an increased awareness of pollinator population trends and trends in bee-pollinated crop production. They gained a basic knowledge of native bee biology, identification, habitat requirements, pollinator-friendly farming practices, the design and development of pollinator habitat enhancements, how to support those efforts through Farm Bill conservation programs, and where to find additional resources. This knowledge empowered educators and conservation planners to directly reverse pollinator declines through their own actions and through the education of their constituents.
In the intermediate term, we expected Extension, NRCS, FSA, and Soil and Water Conservation District attendees to go on to directly support pollinator conservation projects with their client farmers. We also expected extension educators and farm consultants to provide guidance to farmers on how to modify existing practices to support pollinator resources (e.g. adoption of pesticide mitigation techniques, mowing modifications to protect bumble bees, etc.). Participants from other agencies such as state departments of agriculture, transportation, and natural resources, and non-governmental organizations have advocated for the inclusion of crop-pollinating bees in wildlife and natural area management plans. Our participants have reported to have used the information gained to conduct local outreach efforts (public field days, in-service peer trainings, etc.) to share their knowledge, and to promote demonstration projects. Our survey respondents (65%) reported that they used the information they gained from our training in their own outreach and education efforts and 37% reported that they included pollinator conservation information in their written publications such as technical guides, newsletters, and news stories.
Over the long term, we expected this project to result in increased participation among growers of bee-pollinated crops in USDA conservation programs that support pollinator habitat. The support system of NRCS conservation planners and farm educators has helped farmers achieve greater crop security through the increase of resident native pollinator populations. These trainings also encouraged the enrollment in NRCS and FSA Farm Bill conservation programs; 41% of our survey respondents reported to have enrolled, encouraged, or assisted others in enrolling in NRCS conservation programs for pollinators.
These Short Courses have also supported the honey bee industry through the creation of new pollinator refugia in agricultural landscapes. Native seed growers and private conservation companies have benefited from new market opportunities for their products and services. Rural landscapes have benefited from healthier agro-ecosystems where pesticide mitigation techniques are adopted and wildlife biodiversity is fostered. Our Short Courses have facilitated the installation of additional habitat on the ground for pollinators; 59% of respondents reported to have provided additional wildflower plantings and nest sites, 32% reported to have adjusted their land management practices with pollinators in mind, and 38% considered pesticide impacts on pollinators when making pest management decisions for their farms.
Through our follow up surveys we also asked participants to rank which topics they would like to learn about in future Short Courses. The highest ranked follow up course was an option for learning more information about wildflower plot establishment and management techniques (Fig. 5). The current Short Course model provides an overview of this process, however preparing a site and establishing and maintaining a wildflower meadow involves more training than can be thoroughly covered in one full day. An obvious next step in this project would involve expanding the Short Course model to include more classroom time for participants to create a pollinator conservation plan, field days on seed bed preparation, wildflower seed establishment, and short and long term maintenance techniques.
One other highly rated option for follow up Short Courses was a Beneficial Insect Conservation program (for beneficial insects that provide pest control). We have a model Short Course curriculum currently in development related to that subject, and hope to make it available in the near future.