On-Farm Pollinator Habitat

Final Report for FW12-068

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Gary Nabhan
Almuniya de los Zopilotes orchard
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Project Information

Abstract:

The on-farm habitat project in Southeastern Arizona had three dimensions:

1) collaborative implementation and subsequent monitoring of on-farm hedgerows and gardens to attract pollinators, which occurred at more than eight sites in three Arizona counties;

2) training and technical/educational outreach to farmers, gardeners, ranchers, orchardists,ecological restorationists and agricultural/environmental educators; including training workshops, field days, books, handouts and other publications; and

3) establishing baselines and initiating ecological and sociological/economic evaluations to determine project success.

The project surpassed expectations in terms of the number of pollinator gardens or on-farm hedgerows planted; the number of attendees at training workshops and field days; the number of regional and national conferences where our results were reported and reported; and the amount of ecological, agricultural and rural sociological data obtained about on-farm pollinators and their value to food security and society at large.

We also certified a number of participating farms as Certified Bee-Friendly with Partners for Sustainable Pollination so that they might add value to their products through marketing them in this manner.

Introduction

Although significant honeybee declines have occurred in southern Arizona, as in the rest of the United States and the world, the borderlands region between southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and west Texas remains among he most diverse in the Americas in terms of native wild pollinator diversity. The premise o fthis project was that plantings of native plants on-farm and in adjacent wild habitats in working landscapes could enhance and stabilize, if not diversify, pollinator populations sufficient to ensure crop seed fertilization and yield stability for food security. To do so, we evaluated a wild range of both native wild and commonly cultivated plants adapted to our region that were reputed to attract pollinators in abundance over long seasons; we also paid attention to planting designs most conducive to attracting and maintaining invertebrate and vertebrate pollinators in our area. According to recent scientific reviews, not all attempts at attracting pollinators to anthropogenic habitats like farmscapes have been successful. And those which have had results typically increase the presence of widely common pollinators already present in the background landscape, but have little effect on increasing the abundance of visitation times of rare pollinators. As such, we felt it important to work with ecologists, such as Dr. Ron Pulliam of Borderlands Restoration - formerly with the USGS Biological Survey and Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia, to compare our hedgerows with native plants in wild habitat transects nearby to gain a sense of the differences in their performances. While monitoring the ecological benefits of the pollinator plantings was important, we also invested time in sociological monitoring of public perceptions of pollinators and their ecosystem services, to evaluate farmers' willingness to participate and the public's willingness to pay to protect and sustain pollinator services.

Project Objectives:

1. Design, select plants for and implement (through vegetative propagation and outplanting, seeding, water harvesting or irrigation installation and fencing protection) three to four on-farm pollinator-attracting hedgerows. Our target was exceeded, see outcomes.

2. Monitor survival of plantings, flowering times and relative value of each species in attracting or keeping pollinators in habitat. Ongoing, but data collection exceeded initial proposal.

3.Train farmers, ranchers, orchardists, as well as restorationists, beekeepers, conservationists and educators, in pollinator hedgerow design and implementation through workshops, field days,training events, publications and conference. Level of attendance and degree of participation exceeded expectations.

4. Publish and disseminate results at conferences so these local case studies will be useful to others beyond the area of this project. Regional and national interest in our work was far exceeded.

5. Establish baselines for monitoring and evaluating long-term success, in agricultural, ecological and rural sociological terms. Baseline establishment and monitoring intensity were exceeded.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Tarenta Baldeschi
  • Maya Dailey
  • Glen Dickens
  • Bill Steen
  • Kate Tirion
  • Caleb Weaver
  • Dr. Susan Wethington & Lee Rogers

Research

Materials and methods:

1. Pollinator-attracting plants were selected by comparing the local flora to lists of plants with known value in attracting a diversity of pollinators. See attached tables.

2. Design criteria and needs of producers - orchard crop pollination vs field crop pollination, irrigation implementation vs water harvesting, et - were reviewed before establishing plantings.

3. Potentially interested farmers, orchardists, ranchers, beekeepers, restorationists and others were recruited at workshops, conferences and online through existing and new contacts. A subset was selected to offer publically viewable and monitorable hedgerows which we then implemented on their farmscapes.

4. Monitoring of plant survival, number of flowers per hedgerow plant, seasonal duration of flowering and other factors were accomplished roughly every ten days for 11 to 14 months in both on-farm hedgerow plots and wild habitat plots.

5. Letters of invitation to participate, along with a Michigan State University approved survey questionnaire of perceptions of pollinators and willingness to pay for services, was sent to over 2,000 residents, farms, ecotourism businesses and other non-profits and for-profits in the area.

6. On-farm workshops, training events, field days and conferences were selected on the basis of places and audiences which would have the most positive impact.

7. For successfully surviving and thriving hedgerows, we worked with producers to obtain Bee-Friendly certification based on whole farm value to pollinators.

Research results and discussion:

1 and 4

From a wide variety of lists, we selected plants (mostly native ones from our watershed) that were reputed to have great potential in attracting pollinators. We first tracked their survivorship in on-farm conditions through two droughts and two catastrophic freezes and determined that of over 65 species of pollinator-attracting plants, there were only fifteen species that had both five or more individual plants transplanted or hedgerows between April 2012 and January 2013 and survival rates through July 2013 of 770 percent or more. Of these, mesquite, wolfberries, sennas, desert willows and milkweeds attracted the most pollinator species in our preliminary assessments of the literature. See WSARE Planting Success Table.5.

6.

In addition to the on-farm workshops,the public events took place at the Bordser Food Summit and its field day to Native Seeds SEARCH farm and Almuniya de los Zopilotes Orchard (250 attendees); the Alaska Native Plant Conference (250 attendees); University of Victoria (50 attendees); Seeds of Success national conference (400 attendees); Center for Plant Conservation (80 attendees); and North Carolina Botanical Garden SOS meeting (5 attendees).

7.

Finally, at least five of our pollinator plantings are certified as Bee-Friendly by Partners in Sustainable Pollination, and more are to come. See attachments in project description for this section.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Gary Paul Nabhan's June 2013 book, Growing Food in a Hotter Drier Land from Chelsea Green Publishing has a sixteen page chapter, Getting in Synch: Keeping Pollinators in Pace and in Place with Arid-Adapted Crops. It is not only being widely read in response to mention of it in the New York Times in July 2013, but he is scheduled for at least eight talks and on-farm tours over the rest of 2013 about this topic. In addition, the Wings article will be published by the Xerces Society in fall 2013.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The accomplishments over and above outcomes are of three kinds. Of the eight new hedgerows and pollinator gardens planted, five are now certified as Bee-Friendly, visited on field days and monitored at least through October 2013 in conjunction with our collaborators. The base of collaboration for on-farm collaboration for pollinator conservation, recovery and enhancement has grown to include BeeWorks, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Borderlands Restoration, Xerces Society, NRCS, Seeds of Success, Wild Farm Alliance, Town of Patagonia, Hummingbird Monitoring Network, University of Arizona Southwest Center, Extension, Office of Campus Sustainability, and Tumamoc Hill Program for Plants and People. Finally, revised and much more fine-tuned recommendations of plants and design criteria can be given to farmers and gardeners who have attended our events - already in the hundreds - who wish to do their own plantings.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The collaborative base which we have developed will likely foster at least two more pollinator plantings at workshops this year. The town of Patagonia has declared it and its surrounds the Pollinator Capitol of the U.S. on websites and in signage, and as such, the University of Arizona Borderlands Restoration L3C is working on a full inventory of pollinators, their nectar and pollen plants and larval hosts plants. At least four new nurseries have cropped up among our participants to grow out milkweeds for monarchs, red-flowered shrubs and wildflowers for hummingbirds, and succulents for bats and carpenter bees. Additional funding has come into the University of Arizona and Borderlands Restoration to continue this work. Finally, five local youth in Santa Cruz County's low income communities participated in an Earth Care/Youth Corps for five weeks in the summer of 2013 to collect seeds of pollinator plants for propagation, to propagate and disseminate them through seed ball dispersal and nursery plantings; and to build a lathe house and high tunnel nursery for milkweeds and other pollinator plants in a collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish.

Future Recommendations

It is important to help producers and researchers to continue monitoring after the project's determination. Any funds after current expenses will be used to continue monitoring at least through October 2013.

Most on-farm plantings done with pollinators in mind, according to Rachel Winfree of Rutgers, are likely to be marginally effective because of their small-scale, low plant diversity or placement and design. We encourage farmers to work closely with local pollination ecologists rather than taking lists of plants off the shelf from nationally-distributed books. Lists need to be localized, and then focused on gaining the longest duration of overlapping flowering of species with different nectar and pollen chemistries and sizes.

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.