Northeast Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course

Final Report for ENE10-117

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $104,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
Eric Mader
The Xerces Society
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Project Information

Summary:

The Xerces Society provided 28 Pollinator Conservation Short Courses in 12 Northeast states over the course of four years for staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Certified Crop Advisors, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Cooperative Extension personnel, as well as farm organizations, farmers, and other individuals. Leveraged funds from our close collaboration with the NRCS were used for 11 of the 28 short courses, which allowed us to hold multiple courses in some states. More than 1,400 people participated in the short courses, for an average of 50 participants per course. Follow-up surveys showed that these short courses improved the attendees’ skills and capacity to implement pollinator conservation efforts, such as installing wildflower-rich conservation buffers, mitigating harm from pesticides, and reducing tillage to protect ground-nesting bees.

A new article in the 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 the integration of wild pollinators into farm systems through the conservation or restoration of natural or semi-natural areas, the protection of wild bee nest sites, and more prudent use of insecticides will enhance global yields of bee-pollinated crops and promote long-term agricultural production.

Our short courses provided exactly such a roadmap for agricultural professionals. Each short course included an overview of basic pollinator biology, an overview of the latest research findings related to the role of wild pollinators in agriculture, conservation practices that support pollinators, relevant habitat assessment and management guidelines, practical habitat establishment guidelines, and an overview of how to take advantage of financial and technical support from the USDA via conservation programs authorized in the Farm Bill.

We assessed the impact of these short courses in two ways: through day-of-course evaluations and through follow-up surveys one year after each short course. On the day-of-course evaluations, participants were asked to rate their skill or ability on a seven-point scale in various topics before and after the workshop. The evaluation results indicate, on average, a 1.7-point increase among all participants.

Our one-year follow-up survey data show that short course participants did in fact use information gained from the short course in their work to conserve these vital insects. For example, in the one-year follow-up surveys, 98% of respondents (239 out of 245) reported that they had used information gained from the training in a professional capacity. A significant amount of that feedback reflects actual on-the-ground conservation work. For example, among agricultural support staff, a term that we will use in this report to refer to field staff from the NRCS, Cooperative Extension, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and crop consultants who attended the short courses, 66% (41 out of 62) reported directly implementing pollinator conservation strategies with client farmers one year after the short course. The one-year follow-up survey indicated that at least 4,545 acres of land are being managed for pollinators as a result of these trainings and the subsequent actions taken by agricultural support staff. Given the response rate and the survey’s instruction to provide a conservative estimate, the actual number of acres of new or improved pollinator habitat resulting from these short courses is likely much higher. Based on our follow-up survey data, we are optimistic that over the long term this project will result in increased participation among growers of bee-pollinated crops in USDA conservation programs like Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Performance Target:

Original project performance target: The Pollinator Conservation Short Course will enable 240 farm educators and conservation agency staff to directly support at least 484 farmers in adapting farm practices for pollinator conservation on 24,000 acres of land and to assist at least 60 of those farmers with enrollment in NRCS administered Farm Bill conservation programs.

Actual performance target results: We conducted full-day Pollinator Conservation Short Courses in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia in the Northeast SARE region. Our specific performance target for the Pollinator Conservation Short Course was to reach at least 240 participants total. We greatly surpassed this goal by reaching 1,469 participants, including 337 NRCS staff, averaging 50 people at each short course. Of the 919 participants who completed day-of-course evaluations, 127 were farmers and 321 were agricultural support staff. The remaining 556 participants indicated their affiliation on the day-of-course evaluation as biologist/entomologist (149), media (6), or other (401). Some individuals indicated multiple affiliations.

In one-year follow-up surveys, 98% of respondents (239 out of 245) reported that they had used the information they gained from the training. Of the 239 people who indicated that they had used training information, 27% (64) were agricultural support staff and 10% (25) were farmers. Based on the follow-up responses, management changes to improve conditions for pollinators were made on 4,545 acres.

Leveraged funds from the NRCS were used for 11 of the 28 short courses, which allowed us to hold multiple short courses in some states. Northeast SARE support for this outreach effort was acknowledged at all of the events, and the short courses were promoted to Northeast SARE personnel and posted on the Northeast SARE event calendar.

Introduction:

Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of more than 85% 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% of the foods and beverages that we consume (Klein et al. 2007).

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). 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 northeast U.S. such as apples, blueberries, cranberries, pumpkins, and more.

Research on crop pollination has demonstrated that native bees make a significant contribution to crop pollination—in some cases providing 100% of pollination when enough habitat is available (Kremen et al. 2002, Kremen et al. 2004, Winfree et al 2007b). 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, pesticide exposure, and—in the last few years—Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been covered extensively in the media.

However, the essential service of pollination is at risk. Habitat loss, alteration, fragmentation, pesticide use, and pathogens have all contributed to recent pollinator declines. 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.

Since 2008, the last two consecutive Farm Bills have continued to include specific language that makes pollinators a priority of all USDA conservation programs. At the state and national levels, the NRCS—often in collaboration with the Xerces Society—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, as well as farmers themselves.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Scott Black
  • Matthew Shepherd

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

For this project, the Xerces Society developed a core curriculum on pollinator conservation for agricultural landscapes. This curriculum included modules on the importance of bees, their decline and conservation threats, native bee ecology, pollinator habitat assessment, bee-safe farm management, pollinator habitat restoration, and financial and technical support from USDA conservation programs and personnel.

Wherever possible, the short course curriculum was supplemented by presentations from conservation experts based in each individual state. In this way, we also worked to support local communities interested in promoting pollinator conservation efforts in agricultural landscapes. Depending upon the event, these local speakers included NRCS State Wildlife Biologists and Plant Materials Center Managers (responsible for implementing Farm Bill pollinator conservation programming), native seed producers involved in pollinator conservation efforts, academic researchers, and Cooperative Extension entomologists. Guest speakers spoke about conservation programs available to farmers, current research about pollinator conservation in the area, specific field trials, and 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. Whenever possible, short courses also included an outdoor field component to observe and identify pollinators and pollinator plants, assess pollinator habitat resources using Xerces’ tools, 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 where classroom space was in close proximity to appropriate field sites.

Workshops concluded with a discussion of local technical and financial resources to support the independent ongoing efforts of workshop participants.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

We have met and surpassed all of our project objectives outlined in our initial proposal through the Pollinator Conservation Short Course. We were able to conduct 28 short courses (11 of which were supported by leveraged non-SARE funds) in the 12 Northeast SARE states (excluding only the District of Columbia from the Northeast SARE geographic scope). We reached over 1,400 people, greatly surpassing our goal of 240. Based on one-year follow-up survey results, we conservatively estimate that these short courses led to improved conditions for pollinators on over 4,000 acres in the Northeast SARE states. The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Below is a sample of feedback we’ve received from participants:

“I can’t believe how greatly my knowledge increased, attributable to good PowerPoint and speaker. Very engaging, comprehensive and inspired. THANK YOU!” – Extension Educator, Massachusetts

“Eric’s (the instructor) presentations were stellar! A ++++. Plant tour was excellent and [a great way of] sharing productivity/successes. Thought this would be too content specific and over my head. Eric’s presentations were exceptional and easy to assimilate. Wealth of excellent information.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, New York

“The workshop was a great introduction to pollinator conservation. I felt it really helped broaden my own general understanding of the issue. I look forward to reviewing some of the materials and Xerces website in more depth to learn more.” – Nonprofit Conservation Organization Professional, Massachusetts

“The workshop exceeded my expectations. Excellent info was presented in a very accessible way that kept my interest throughout. It was a plus that it was so well organized and carried out.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, New Jersey

“My expectations were definitely fulfilled. All presenters were informative and well prepared. Thank you for a great workshop!” – Extension Educator, New Jersey

“The review of bee biology [in this short course] was good information not seen elsewhere, and not easy to find in books available to laymen.” – Farmer, Maryland

“Wonderful Presenters – Eric and Mace are awesome! Very Engaging.” - USDA Biologist, Washington D.C.

“My expectations were exceeded. This was a wonderful well put together presentation and VERY informative and visually engaging.” – Delaware participant

“I was familiar with the Xerces Society and so had strong expectations. The actual program fully satisfied these.” – Landscape architect, Connecticut

“Course more than met my expectations. I actually expected Powerpoint presentations without advanced training + experience. Event organizers provide a great resource.” – Educator, Connecticut

“I expected to learn about bees. My expectations were surpassed. Eric does a great job bringing ‘common sense’ to the subject.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, Maine

“(My expectations were) Exceeded. Eric was so knowledgeable & a great speaker.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, Maine

“Eric Mader was an excellent presenter – very knowledgeable and clear. Supporting presentations were excellent too. One of the best workshops I have attended in years! – Forester, Maine

“I was open to a wide variety of topics not knowing exactly what this would like. Description I read was captivating and I had to attend. Excellent information - good presenters, good breaks. Loved this knowledgeable, experienced - nice rapport w/audience.” – Landowner, Maine

“To understand more about the pollinators themselves and how to enhance & create habitat both within & without NRCS programs. YES (expectations exceeded)!!” – Agricultural Agency Staff, Vermont

“This was a great overview. Very informative. Thank you!” – Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania

“Very informative. The speakers (Kelly & Gary) are very knowledgeable & did an excellent job sharing the information.” – Rhode Island participant

“Learning about establishing native plants for pollinators. Yes - fulfilled! Outstanding workshop!” – Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom Educator

“I was hoping to learn more about specific ways to increase pollinator habitats - this course was very well done and very informative :)” – Environmental Educator, Rhode Island

“I wanted more information + education and I received it! Kelly Gill was fantastic and answered our questions!” – Educator, Rhode Island

“Very impressed, well worth the time, unlike so many seminars today!” – Rhode Island participant

“I was expecting to learn basic information about conserving pollinators and preserving their habitat. All of my expectations were fulfilled. It was a great training!!!” – Agricultural support staff, Rhode Island

“The class was above and beyond my expectations. Our presenter Kelly was very enthusiastic, well spoken, and kept my attention the whole time! Such great information. Thank you!” – Farm Apprentice, New York

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

We assessed the outcomes and impacts of these short courses in two ways. Written day-of-course evaluations were administered to each participant to evaluate specific learning outcomes, intentions, and overall course quality. Out of 1,469 participants, 919 completed the day-of-course evaluations, for a 63% response rate. One year after the short course, a follow-up survey was sent to all attendees. The one-year survey was intended to see if and how participants had been using the information gained from the short course. In the one-year follow-up surveys, 248 participants responded, for a 27% response rate. For both the day-of-course evaluation and the one-year follow-up survey, it is important to note that not every respondent answered every question.

Increases in Knowledge and Skills

Day-of-course evaluation results: In the day-of-course evaluations, participants were asked to rate their skill or ability on a 7-point scale in various topics before and after the workshop. The evaluation results indicate, on average, a 1.7-point increase in skills or abilities among all participants. For the 317 agricultural support staff who completed the day-of-course evaluation, the average increase was 1.6 points, and for the 127 farmers, the average increase was 1.8 points.

Intentions to Make Changes

The day-of-course evaluations also asked participants whether they intended to make changes because of the short course. Although the evaluation form directed different questions to agricultural support staff than to farmers, some respondents chose to answer both sets of questions (because they identified with both categories or for some other unknown reason). As a result, combining the number of respondents in the two categories (agricultural support staff and farmers) may exceed the totals previously reported for these categories.

Among agricultural support staff 92% (261 out of 283) indicated that they intended to change how they would advise farmers about land management practices in order to support pollinators, and 95% (244 out of 258) indicated plans to incorporate pollinator habitat enhancement into their own conservation training programs. Specific changes and additions that agricultural support staff intended to make in their advice to farmers consisted of the following (Figure 1 in attachment):

  • 80% (209 out of 261) planned to advise farmers to consider pesticide impacts on pollinators in future pest control decisions.
  • 76% (199 out of 261) planned to advise farmers to adjust management (tillage, mowing, etc.) where possible to increase pollinator numbers.
  • 92% (241 out of 261) planned to advise farmers to provide additional habitat resources for pollinators (wildflower plantings, nest boxes, etc.).
  • 80% (209 out of 261) planned to encourage farmer enrollment in USDA conservation programs for pollinators.
  • 10% (26 out of 261) planned to advise farmers to pursue some other action on behalf of pollinators.

Note that while agricultural educators, advisors, and other consulting experts were the primary audience for the short course, a number of farmers also requested to attend the event (and in many cases agricultural educators were also farmers themselves). Because of this strong interest in the short course on the part of farmers, specific survey questions were included to measure impacts among that demographic. Based upon those question targeting farmers, 92% (100 out of 109) indicated that attending the workshop changed what they intended to do to support pollinators on their farms. As shown in Figure 2 (attachment), specific changes and additions that farmers indicated that they intended to make consisted of the following:

  • 40% (40 out of 100) planned to consider pesticide impacts on pollinators in future pest control decisions.
  • 62% (62 out of 100) planned to adjust management (tillage, mowing, etc.) where possible to increase pollinator numbers.
  • 98% (98 out of 100) planned to provide additional habitat resources for pollinators (wildflower plantings, nest boxes, etc.).
  • 51% (51 out of 100) planned to enroll in NRCS-administered conservation programs for pollinators.
  • 14% (14 out of 100) planned to pursue some other action on behalf of pollinators.

28 farmers reported the size of their farms, and collectively, these respondents manage approximately 1,058 acres of land.

Follow-up Actions Taken

One-year follow-up survey results: One year after each short course, a follow-up survey was sent to all attendees via email. The survey was intended to see if and how participants had been using the information gained from the short course.

In the one-year follow-up survey, 98% of respondents (239 out of 245) reported that they had used the information they gained from the training. Of the 239 people who indicated that they had used training information, 27% (64) were agricultural support staff and 10% (25) were farmers.

The agricultural support staff who indicated that they had used short course information did so in the following ways (Figure 3 in attachment):

  • 66% (41 out of 62) assisted farmers and clients in implementing pollinator conservation practices.
  • 83% (49 out of 62) included pollinator conservation in education and outreach programs.
  • 46% (27 out of 62) included pollinator conservation information in written publications.
  • 61% (38 out of 62) enrolled, encouraged, or assisted with enrollment in USDA conservation programs.

These results indicate that agricultural support staff were able to apply what they learned from the short course when advising or assisting farmers.

In one-year follow-up surveys, the 25 farmers who indicated that they had used short course information did so in the following ways (Figure 4 in attachment):

  • 88% (22 out of 25) incorporated pollinator conservation measures into how their farm or land is managed.
  • 32% (8 out of 25) considered pesticide impacts on pollinators in pest management decisions.
  • 56% (14 out of 25) adjusted management (tillage, mowing, grazing, fire, etc.) where possible to increase pollinator numbers.
  • 80% (20 out of 25) provided additional habitat resources for pollinators (wildflower plantings, nest boxes, etc.).
  • 20% (5 out of 25) enrolled in USDA conservation programs for pollinators.

These results indicate that farmers who attended the short course changed their land management activities to benefit pollinators.

Acreage Affected by Changes in Management

As part of the one-year follow-up survey, we asked all participants to report on how many acres of pollinator habitat they had created or helped to create. Based on the responses received from 2010-2013, management changes to improve conditions for pollinators were made on 4,545 acres. We believe this is a conservative answer, due in part to changes in survey questions after the first year of the project.

In the first year of the survey, 35 respondents (who had attended the short course in 2010) reported that they had implemented or helped implement changes in land management to benefit pollinators on 180 acres of land. This is a very conservative estimate, and we believe the actual acreage to be much higher. In that survey, we asked participants to select one of several options (<1, 1–3, 3–6, 7–10, 10+ acres) instead of having the option to enter a number. All future surveys have allowed respondents to enter a number, and we believe that this has provided better data. From 2011 through 2013, 113 respondents indicated that they had created or helped to create improved conditions for pollinators an estimated 4,365 acres. The total estimated acres reported comes to 4,545 acres, and we believe, even with the modified survey question, that this is a very conservative estimate of the short course’s impact. 65 respondents in surveys from 2011 onward also reported to have changed pesticide practices on 1,937 acres of land, and 71 respondents reported to have adjusted management practices on 3,796 acres of land. On average, survey respondents who reported acreage impacts created 39 acres of pollinator habitat, adjusted pesticide practices on 30 acres, and adjusted land management practices on 53 acres.

Among the 14 reporting agricultural support staff who responded to one-year follow-up surveys from 2010, 10 reported they had implemented or helped implement changes in land management to benefit pollinators on 33 acres of land. Agricultural support staff who attended short courses in 2011, 2012, and 2013 reported the following results:

  • 34 agricultural support staff reported creating or helping to create 505 acres of habitat through wildflower establishment
  • 21 reported changing or helping to change pesticide practices on 419 acres
  • 28 reported changing or helping to change management practices on 1,171 acres.

Several agricultural support staff noted that they were unable to provide information on how many acres they helped to establish or enhance for pollinators. Therefore, the reported numbers are conservative figures; we believe that actual acres of pollinator habitat created may be much higher.

Among the 3 reporting farmers who responded to one-year follow-up surveys after 2010, they reported implementation in land management to benefit pollinators on 15 acres of land. Among the farmers who attended short courses in 2011, 2012, and 2013:

  • 21 reported that they had created 104 acres of pollinator habitat through wildflower establishment
  • 14 also reported to have changed pesticide practices on 466 acres of land
  • 14 had adjusted management practices on 338 acres of land.

The one-year follow-up survey results indicate that we were highly successful in our initial project objectives: to provide a train-the-trainer approach to expanding pollinator conservation efforts, facilitate the installation of additional habitat on the ground, change land management practices on the ground (reducing the use of pesticides, tillage, and mowing), and encourage enrollment in USDA conservation programs.

Understanding Impediments to Pollinator Conservation

As part of our one-year 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 (Figure 5 in attachment). Many barriers participants faced such as being “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 follow-up workshops on wildflower plot establishment. Other issues included the cost of establishing pollinator habitat and the difficulty involved with applying for government funding. To alleviate these barriers, Xerces has developed and provided documents and training on how to successfully navigate USDA conservation programs. We are also working with seed companies to expand the number of native species available and to lower costs, and we are working to get higher cost-share payments through USDA conservation programs. Overall, these survey questions helped us to develop clear strategies for reducing or eliminating barriers to adopting pollinator conservation measures.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We have met and surpassed all of our project objectives outlined in our initial proposal through the Pollinator Conservation Short Course. We were able to conduct 28 short courses (11 of which were supported by leveraged non-SARE funds) in the 12 Northeast SARE states (excluding only the District of Columbia from the Northeast SARE geographic scope). We reached over 1,400 people, greatly surpassing our goal of 240. Based on one-year follow-up survey results, we conservatively estimate that these short courses led to improved conditions for pollinators on over 4,000 acres in the Northeast SARE states. The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Below is a sample of feedback we’ve received from participants:

“I can’t believe how greatly my knowledge increased, attributable to good PowerPoint and speaker. Very engaging, comprehensive and inspired. THANK YOU!” – Extension Educator, Massachusetts

“Eric’s (the instructor) presentations were stellar! A ++++. Plant tour was excellent and [a great way of] sharing productivity/successes. Thought this would be too content specific and over my head. Eric’s presentations were exceptional and easy to assimilate. Wealth of excellent information.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, New York

“The workshop was a great introduction to pollinator conservation. I felt it really helped broaden my own general understanding of the issue. I look forward to reviewing some of the materials and Xerces website in more depth to learn more.” – Nonprofit Conservation Organization Professional, Massachusetts

“The workshop exceeded my expectations. Excellent info was presented in a very accessible way that kept my interest throughout. It was a plus that it was so well organized and carried out.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, New Jersey

“My expectations were definitely fulfilled. All presenters were informative and well prepared. Thank you for a great workshop!” – Extension Educator, New Jersey

“The review of bee biology [in this short course] was good information not seen elsewhere, and not easy to find in books available to laymen.” – Farmer, Maryland

“Wonderful Presenters – Eric and Mace are awesome! Very Engaging.” - USDA Biologist, Washington D.C.

“My expectations were exceeded. This was a wonderful well put together presentation and VERY informative and visually engaging.” – Delaware participant

“I was familiar with the Xerces Society and so had strong expectations. The actual program fully satisfied these.” – Landscape architect, Connecticut

“Course more than met my expectations. I actually expected Powerpoint presentations without advanced training + experience. Event organizers provide a great resource.” – Educator, Connecticut

“I expected to learn about bees. My expectations were surpassed. Eric does a great job bringing ‘common sense’ to the subject.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, Maine

“(My expectations were) Exceeded. Eric was so knowledgeable & a great speaker.” – Agricultural Agency Staff, Maine

“Eric Mader was an excellent presenter – very knowledgeable and clear. Supporting presentations were excellent too. One of the best workshops I have attended in years! – Forester, Maine

“I was open to a wide variety of topics not knowing exactly what this would like. Description I read was captivating and I had to attend. Excellent information - good presenters, good breaks. Loved this knowledgeable, experienced - nice rapport w/audience.” – Landowner, Maine

“To understand more about the pollinators themselves and how to enhance & create habitat both within & without NRCS programs. YES (expectations exceeded)!!” – Agricultural Agency Staff, Vermont

“This was a great overview. Very informative. Thank you!” – Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania

“Very informative. The speakers (Kelly & Gary) are very knowledgeable & did an excellent job sharing the information.” – Rhode Island participant

“Learning about establishing native plants for pollinators. Yes - fulfilled! Outstanding workshop!” – Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom Educator

“I was hoping to learn more about specific ways to increase pollinator habitats - this course was very well done and very informative :)” – Environmental Educator, Rhode Island

“I wanted more information + education and I received it! Kelly Gill was fantastic and answered our questions!” – Educator, Rhode Island

“Very impressed, well worth the time, unlike so many seminars today!” – Rhode Island participant

“I was expecting to learn basic information about conserving pollinators and preserving their habitat. All of my expectations were fulfilled. It was a great training!!!” – Agricultural support staff, Rhode Island

“The class was above and beyond my expectations. Our presenter Kelly was very enthusiastic, well spoken, and kept my attention the whole time! Such great information. Thank you!” – Farm Apprentice, New York

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Already, the support system of NRCS conservation planners, Cooperative Extension staff, and other agricultural support staff who have attended the short course are now actively helping farmers achieve greater crop security through the increase of resident native pollinator populations (as the survey results demonstrate). Over the long term however, we expected this project to result in other benefits.

For example, continuing into the future, we anticipate increased participation among growers of bee-pollinated crops in USDA conservation programs that support pollinator habitat. In fact, this expectation is already being observed. In response to our one-year follow-up survey, 13% of respondents (23 out of 183) reported to have enrolled in NRCS conservation programs for pollinators, and 31% (73 out of 233) have reported encouraging or assisting others in enrolling.

These short courses also are having other impacts. For example, course recommendations support the honey bee industry through the creation of new pollinator habitat in agricultural landscapes. Native seed growers and private conservation companies have also benefited, through the development 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. As indicated in the one-year follow-up survey, 56% of respondents (131 out of 233) reported that they have provided additional wildflower plantings and nest sites, 36% (83 out of 233) considered pesticide impacts on pollinators when making pest management decisions for their farms, and 20% (47 out of 233) reported to have adjusted their land management practices with pollinators in mind.

The only challenges we faced during this project period were minor, and we would actually classify them as additional opportunities rather than challenges. After each short course, we would inevitably receive a flood of additional workshop requests and follow-up inquiries for farm-specific technical support. We were able to address some of these requests by leveraging funding from the NRCS National Technology Support Centers; however, we continue to receive additional requests on a daily basis. As new research and technical guidance relevant to pollinator conservation continues to evolve, it became a challenge to fit in all the pertinent materials into our one-day course agenda. In day-of-course evaluations and in one-year follow-up surveys, respondents continue to request an expansion of the short course to include additional information about wildflower plot establishment, and additional information about conserving other beneficial insects (predators and parasitoids of crop pests). This presents an opportunity to expand our current model to an in-depth, multi-day course that allows participants to create their own pollinator conservation plan, include field days on wildflower seed establishment, short- and long-term land maintenance techniques, and more in-depth training on pollinator identification. We submitted a preproposal to provide a Conservation Biological Control Short Course in all Northeast SARE states, and we were invited to submit a full proposal in October. These short courses will build on the success of our Pollinator Conservation Short Courses by providing agricultural professionals with the information they need to continue to provide wildlife habitat on working farms and reduce the use of pesticides.

Future Recommendations

Through our follow-up surveys, we also asked participants to rank which topics they would like to learn about in future courses. One of the highest-ranking requests was for a follow-up course on ecological pest control through the conservation of beneficial predatory and parasitoid insects. Responding to this demand, we have recently submitted a proposal to Northeast SARE to develop this concept and provide a similar short course model in all Northeast SARE states.

Another follow-up topic of interest was additional training in wildflower plot establishment and management techniques (Figure 6 in attachment). The current short course model provides an overview of this process; however, the hands-on nature of wildflower plot establishment makes the topic less intuitive than pollinator ecology. Because of this difference, a possible next step in this project could include a series of outdoor workshops where participants conduct basic hands-on activities such as seed bed preparation, seed mix development, and planting.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.