Increasing Farm Resiliency Through Implementing and Modeling Pollinator Habitat

Progress report for WRGR21-003

Project Type: Research to Grass Roots
Funds awarded in 2021: $84,480.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2024
Host Institution Award ID: G212-22-W8619
Grant Recipients: Pierce Conservation District; Washington Farmland Trust; The Farm at Franklin Pierce School District
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Alison Nichols, Alison Nichols
Pierce Conservation District
Co-Investigators:
Rusty Milholland
Washington Farmland Trust
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Project Information

Abstract:

Numerous SARE funded research projects have been done regionally, which show that habitat strips support pollinator and beneficial insect populations on farms. Considerations such as ease of maintenance, non-invasive qualities, additional income from harvestable plant species, carbon sequestration opportunities and increased climate resiliency (e.g. improved pest management, microclimate control) influence the feasibility for farmers to establish pollinator and beneficial insect habitat. To apply this research, habitat planting templates will be developed in partnership with farmers, and demonstration models of each template will be established on collaborator farms. Demonstration models on host farms will provide the structure for workshops on establishing and maintaining habitat plantings, the basics of native bee and beneficial insect biology and identification, and citizen science opportunities, and cost share opportunities for habitat establishment. A monitoring component will be included to advance understanding of the benefits of habitat templates.

While we anticipate being able to deliver these workshops in person during the project period, the uncertainty of in-person programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major concern at the time of this proposal. Pierce Conservation District has already modified our workshop delivery to include virtual farm tours and workshops, as well as film sessions that can be embedded on our social media and web pages to reach the broadest audience possible.

Project Objectives:
  1. Equip 60 farmers, at minimum, with understanding of native bee and beneficial insect biology and identification through three (3) demonstration workshops.
    1. Equip farmers with knowledge of how wildlife plantings contribute to the ecosystem function, carbon sequestration potential, and resiliency of their operations.
    2. Provide farmers with habitat planting templates that they are able to adapt to their operations based on the increased understandings gained.
    3. Inform farmers of incentive opportunities for implementing the practice through programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and local cost-share opportunities. 
  2. Promote the role of farmlands to address ecosystem function, carbon sequestration and resiliency via wildlife plantings to the wider community.
  3. Provide additional data and observations on role of wildlife plantings on pollinator/beneficials populations.
  4. Install six (6) demonstration habitat planting strips over three years for a total of 18 demonstration planting strips, (~200ft each).
    1. Three (3) new annual demonstrations per year and nine (9) new perennial demonstrations in years two (2023) and three (2024).
  5. Expand beyond our three (3) collaborator farms and recruit at least two (2)  additional farms to install demonstration habitat planting strips for a total of five (5) farms implementing the practice for demonstration purposes.
    1. By the end of the project, our target is to convert 1/3 of the workshop attendees (minimum of 20 farms) to begin the process of implementing the practice.
Introduction:

An increased awareness of pollinator population declines and the crop production benefits of creating habitat for beneficial insects, as well as a growing understanding of the importance of ecosystem services and the carbon sequestration potential of wildlife habitat on farms, has led to increased interest from farmers and natural resource stakeholders to integrate habitat into farm production systems. And yet growers are intimidated by the project scope and learning curve required to establish habitat on farm. In the SARE funded project “Does More Diverse Plant Architecture in Pollinator Habitats Influence Native Pollinator and Beneficial Insect Abundance and Diversity?” (https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/fw18-030/) researchers noted, “Growers want to encourage pollinators but are hindered by lack of knowledge, limited time and labor, and the perception that pollinator habitat is weedy.” 

To address this barrier, we will utilize the findings of recent SARE studies and technical guides, such as “Assessing the effects of non-honeybee insects on pollination in diversified organic farms” which highlights that non-honeybee “abundance was similar on farms located in urban compared to rural locations, but increased with greater floral diversity on farms in either type of landscape. The research findings were combined with an extensive outreach effort and led to the publication of a guide to native pollinators in western Washington, “Promoting Native Bee Health and Pollination Services on Diversified Organic Produce”, which we will rely on in our own outreach efforts.

Using these SARE resources and others, and working with local farmers to integrate practical application feedback, we will develop a set of planting templates for perennial and annual native plant habitat strips that maximize benefits to pollinator/beneficials populations. This iterative process will take into consideration the dynamics of a working farm to offer field-tested planting designs to farmers that enable them to maximize benefits to production systems while avoiding unforeseen problems with habitat plantings. The cited resources provide regionally relevant information on plant selection, establishment considerations and guidelines, and interaction between planting design and pollinator/beneficials populations and their activity in local agroecosystems.

Other SARE and outside research and guides we will rely on for informing our process include but are not limited to:

(1) Western Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course, https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/ew10-018/

(2) Enhancing Pollinator Habitat in Pacific Northwest Croplands Using DNA Metabarcoding Techniques, https://projects.sare.org/project-reports/gw19-188/

(3) A Citizen Science Guide to Wild Bees and Floral Visitors in Western Washington (produced under SARE project GW16-033)

(4) Xerces Pollinator Conservation Resources: Pacific Northwest Region

https://xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center/pnw

(5)The Native Pollinator Habitat Restoration Guide, Best Management Practices for the Puget Sound Lowlands

https://www.earthcorps.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Native-Pollinator-Habitat-Restoration-Guide-EarthCorps.pdf

(6) WSDA Pollinator Task Force

https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/apiary-pollinators/pollinator-health/task-force

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Holly Foster - Producer
  • Aaron Gibson (Educator)
  • Rawley Johnson - Producer
  • Amy Moreno-Sills - Producer

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Equip farmers to promote on-farm habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects
Objective:

Equip farmers with understanding of pollinator and beneficial insect biology, wildlife habitat promotion on farm, planting templates and planting material for habitat establishment.

Description:

1. Equip 60 farmers, at minimum, with understanding of native bee and beneficial insect biology and identification through three (3) demonstration workshops.
2. Equip farmers with knowledge of how wildlife plantings contribute to the ecosystem function, carbon sequestration potential, and resiliency of their operations.
3. Provide farmers with habitat planting templates that they are able to adapt to their operations based on the increased understandings gained.
4. Inform farmers of incentive opportunities for implementing the practice through programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and local cost-share opportunities.
5. Promote the role of farmlands to address ecosystem function, carbon sequestration and resiliency via wildlife plantings to the wider community.
6. Provide additional data and observations on role of wildlife plantings on pollinator/beneficials populations.

Outcomes and impacts:

1. Install six (6) demonstration habitat planting strips over three years for a total of 18 demonstration planting strips, (~200ft each). Three (3) new annual demonstrations per year and nine (9) new perennial demonstrations in years two (2023) and three (2024).

2. Expand beyond our three (3) collaborator farms and recruit at least two (2) additional farms to install demonstration habitat planting strips for a total of five (5) farms implementing the practice for demonstration purposes.

3. y the end of the project, our target is to convert 1/3 of the workshop attendees (minimum of 20 farms) to begin the process of implementing the practice.

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.