The Xerces Society provided 27 Pollinator Conservation Short Courses in 13 states over the course of 3 years for staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), 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 8 of the 27 courses, which allowed us to hold multiple courses in some states. Southern SARE was acknowledged for all of the events, and the events were promoted to Southern SARE personnel and on the Southern SARE event calendar. In total, 1,191 people participated in the short courses, for an average of 44 participants per course. Follow-up surveys show that these short courses improved the attendees’ skills and capacity to implement pollinator conservation efforts, such as installing 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 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 pollinator biology, an overview of the latest research findings, 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 7-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, 95% of respondents (174 out of 183) 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, 54% (45 out of 84) 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 9,753 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).
Original project performance target: The Pollinator Conservation Short Course will enable 390 farm educators and conservation agency staff in 13 Southern SARE states to directly support in the adaptation of farm practices for pollinator conservation on 39,000 acres of land and to assist with at least 65 new enrollments in NRCS- and FSA-administered Farm Bill conservation programs.
Actual performance target results: We conducted full-day Pollinator Conservation Short Courses in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia in the Southern SARE region. Our specific performance target for the Pollinator Conservation Short Course was to reach at least 390 participants total. We greatly surpassed this goal by reaching over 1,100 participants, including 554 NRCS staff, averaging 44 people at each course. Of the 872 participants who completed day-of-course evaluations, 121 were farmers and 440 were agricultural support staff. The remaining participants indicated their affiliation on the day-of-course evaluation as biologist/entomologist (121), media (3), or other (293). Some individuals indicated multiple affiliations.
Leveraged funds were used for 8 of the 27 courses, which allowed us to hold multiple courses in some states. Southern SARE support for this outreach effort was acknowledged at all of the events, and the short courses were promoted to Southern SARE personnel and on the Southern SARE event calendar.
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). 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.
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 southern U.S. such as cucurbits (melons, watermelons, squash, and cucumbers), blueberries, apples, peaches, strawberries, sunflowers, and peppers. Other crops with improved yield and quality when cross-pollinated that have high economic value in the southern region include soybean, cotton, cottonseed, tomatoes, peanuts, and beans. In addition, the horse, cattle/calf, and dairy industries depend on pollinated crops.
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, Adamson et al. 2012). 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.
Despite this, the essential service of pollination is at risk. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, as well as pesticide use and pathogens, have contributed to recent pollinator declines.
Since 2008, the last two consecutive Farm Bills have continued to include specific language making pollinators a priority for 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 provide a mechanism for developing that technical support expertise among farm educators, as well as farmers themselves.
Note: Full reference information for the citations in this section was included with the proposal associated with this project, with two exceptions:
Adamson, N.L., T.H. Roulston, R.D. Fell, and D.E. Mullins. 2012. From April to August—wild bees pollinating crops through the growing season in Virginia, USA. Environmental Entomology 41(4): 813–821.
Ollerton, J. R. Winfree, and S. Tarrant. 2011. How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos 120: 321–326.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
For this project, the Xerces Society developed a core curriculum on pollinator conservation planning in 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 partners 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.
When possible, 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. Also when possible, short courses 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.
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 1,191 participants, 872 completed the day-of-course evaluations, for a 73% 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, which were sent to 759 participants, 183 participants responded, for a 24% 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.
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 440 agricultural support staff who completed the day-of-course evaluation, the average increase was 1.7 points, and for the 121 farmers, the average increase was 2.0 points.
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, 90% (367 out of 408) indicated that they intended to change how they would advise farmers about land management practices in order to support pollinators, and 96% (360 out of 376) 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): 77% (284 out of 367) planned to advise farmers to consider pesticide impacts on pollinators in future pest control decisions. 69% (252 out of 367) planned to advise farmers to adjust management (tillage, mowing, etc.) where possible to increase pollinator numbers. 86% (317 out of 367) planned to advise farmers to provide additional habitat resources for pollinators (wildflower plantings, nest boxes, etc.). 76% (279 out of 367) planned to encourage farmer enrollment in USDA conservation programs for pollinators. 8% (31 out of 367) 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, 94% (106 out of 113) indicated that attending the workshop changed what they intended to do to support pollinators on their farms. As shown in Figure 2, farmers indicated they intended to make the following changes to benefit pollinators: 58% (61 out of 106) planned to consider pesticide impacts on pollinators in future pest control decisions. 67% (71 out of 106) planned to adjust management (tillage, mowing, etc.) where possible to increase pollinator numbers. 90% (95 out of 106) planned to provide additional habitat resources for pollinators (wildflower plantings, nest boxes, etc.). 46% (49 out of 106) planned to enroll in NRCS-administered conservation programs for pollinators. 12% (13 out of 106) planned to pursue some other action on behalf of pollinators. 95 farmers reported the size of their farms, and collectively, these respondents manage approximately 28,639 acres of land. Note that this total includes an 18,000-acre tree farm; excluding that farm, the average reported farm size was 113 acres.
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, 95% of respondents (174 out of 183) reported that they had used the information they gained from the training. Of the 174 people who indicated that they had used training information, 48% (84) were agricultural support staff and 13% (22) were farmers.
The agricultural support staff who indicated that they had used short course information did so in the following ways (Figure 3): 54% (45 out of 84) assisted farmers and clients in implementing pollinator conservation practices. 55% (46 out of 84) included pollinator conservation in education and outreach programs. 25% (21 out of 84) included pollinator conservation information in written publications. 48% (40 out of 84) 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 22 farmers who indicated that they had used short course information did so in the following ways (Figure 4): 86% (19 out of 22) incorporated pollinator conservation measures into how their farm or land is managed. 82% (18 out of 22) considered pesticide impacts on pollinators in pest management decisions. 73% (16 out of 22) adjusted management (tillage, mowing, grazing, fire, etc.) where possible to increase pollinator numbers. 77% (17 out of 22) provided additional habitat resources for pollinators (wildflower plantings, nest boxes, etc.). 5% (1 out of 22) 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.
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. From 2011 through 2013, 118 respondents indicated that they had created or helped to create an estimated 1,904 acres. 73 respondents also reported to have changed pesticide practices on 5,634 acres of land, and 74 respondents reported to have adjusted management practices on 9,753 acres of land. On average, survey respondents who reported acreage impacts created 16 acres of pollinator habitat, adjusted pesticide practices on 77 acres, and adjusted land management practices on 132 acres.
Agricultural support staff who attended short courses in 2011, 2012, and 2013 reported the following results: 55 agricultural support staff reported creating or helping to create 1,303 acres of habitat through wildflower establishment, 35 reported changing or helping to change pesticide practices on 3,329 acres, and 36 reported changing or helping to change management practices on 7,386 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 farmers who attended short courses in 2011, 2012, and 2013, 19 reported that they had created 175 acres of pollinator habitat through wildflower establishment, 16 also reported to have changed pesticide practices on 310 acres of land, and 15 had adjusted management practices on 172 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.
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). 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.
- North Carolina short course participants tour a pollinator garden developed by local North Carolina State Extension Specialist Debbie Roos.
- Short course participants receive hands-on practice planting pollinator habitat in Columbia, South Carolina.
- Kentucky NRCS State Biologist Casey Shrader demonstrates how to use the Xerces-NRCS Pollinator Habitat Assessment Form and Guide.
- Louisiana short course participants learn about native plant selection and habitat management.
- Participants visit a two-year-old pollinator meadow in Virginia during the short course open laboratory.
- Figures 1 to 5
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 27 short courses (8 of which were supported by leveraged non-SARE funds) in the 13 Southern SARE states. We reached nearly 1,200 people, greatly surpassing our goal of 390 total participants. Based on one-year follow-up survey results, we conservatively estimate that these short courses led to improved conditions for pollinators on over 9,753 acres in the Southern SARE states. The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Below is a sample of feedback we’ve received from participants:
“I was most interested in how to attract pollinators & increase production. I feel like this was very helpful.”
– Farmer, South Carolina short course
“Fantastic workshop with a wealth of information. It exceeded my expectations.”
– Biologist/Entomologist, South Carolina short course
“Wanted to learn more about types of pollinators, their needs, forage, etc. My expectations were surpassed – excellent course!”
– Landscape designer, Virginia short course
“Content was very effective in helping me plan for our outdoor classroom.”
– Teacher, South Carolina short course
“I can tell the difference now between bees, wasps and flies- thanks to you.”
– Master Naturalist, Virginia short course
“I was hoping to learn something new about pollinators. I found this to be a VERY GOOD informational training. It fulfilled and exceeded what I thought I’d learn.”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Kentucky short course
“[My expectations were] understanding the diversity of mix of pollinators and impact on crop production. THIS WAS GREAT! Lots of information I had no idea about, especially native bees.”
– Crop consultant/Farmer, Alabama short course
“I was hoping for a detailed coverage of pollination practices. Definitely! Great workshop!”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Alabama short course
“Information on topic was excellent – the best!”
– Farmer, Alabama short course
“I came wanting to learn more about pollinators and learned more than I could have imagined. Thank you so much, everything was incredibly helpful.”
– Farmer, North Carolina short course
“To further enhance my knowledge of pollinators and pollinator plants. Absolutely loved it – definitely want to study, learn and practice more in depth. Thank you!!”
– Gardener, Florida short course
“Xerces Society put on a very well developed and informative program. Well done.”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Arkansas short course
“Yes – I was very excited to be here and participate. The presenters were warm, accessible, and excellent speakers.”
– Beekeeper, Oklahoma short course
“Excellent workshop – covered many different areas to create whole picture for bee situation/farming. All instructors excellent.”
– Soil Scientist, Georgia short course
“I expected to learn about pollinators, and I did. I was pleased to have so many useful resources provided, like the book and assessment tool. Also it was nice to break up the day with a field trip so we weren’t sitting all day…”
– Beekeeper/Gardener, South Carolina short course
“My expectations were far exceeded by this presentation. Eric did a great job of explaining all the different subject matter in easy to understand terms. He also encouraged everyone to do what they could, no matter how small.”
– Park Ranger, Texas short course
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 expect 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, 5% of respondents (8 out of 163) reported to have enrolled in NRCS conservation programs for pollinators, and 30% (49 out of 163) 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 refuges in agricultural landscapes. Native seed growers and private conservation companies have also benefited through the development of 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, 58% of respondents (95 out of 163) reported that they have provided additional wildflower plantings and nest sites, 50% (82 out of 163) considered pesticide impacts on pollinators when making pest management decisions for their farms, and 29% (47 out of 163) 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 7-hour course agenda. In day-of-course evaluations and in one-year follow-up surveys, respondents continue to request an expansion of our short course to include additional information about wildflower plot establishment and management 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, includes field days on seed bed preparation, wildflower seed establishment, short- and long-term maintenance techniques, and more in-depth training on pollinator identification.
The Pollinator Conservation Short Course established an effective approach to engaging agricultural support staff, and the Xerces Society seeks to build on these teaching methods. The short course also provided information on participants’ interests in other topics. Through our follow-up surveys at pollinator short courses, we have consistently heard that participants are interested in the topic of conservation biological control, the practice of providing habitat for insects that attack pests. Native, wild insects that attack crop pests are an overlooked resource for pest control on farms. Few farmers know much about the beneficial insects around them, and even fewer know how to accelerate those beneficial insect populations to maximize their pest control potential. To meet this need, the Xerces Society has developed materials, including the book Farming with Native Beneficial Insects (published in August 2014), and a short course curriculum on this topic.