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.