Integrating social and natural science to improve pollination outreach and education for farmers
In the spring and summer of 2014, four free pollination workshops were held around the state of Maine to provide apple, lowbush blueberry, and squash farmers with hands-on training identifying and monitoring wild and managed bees. A total of 38 people attended the workshops where they learned about: (1) the major pollinators, their life history, and identification; (2) conservation and protection of native and commercial bee pollinators; and (3) methodology for estimating fruit set, fruit drop, and pollinator field abundance. Surveys and semi-structured interviews were carried out to evaluate the workshops and provide recommendations for improving future outreach and education on sustainable pollination. Analysis of the pre- and post-workshop surveys and interviews reveals that participants plan to implement more pollination practices following the workshop than they did before. In particular, participants indicated increased plans to implement two practices in 2015: (1) monitoring their wild bee populations and (2) assessing wild and managed bees’ contribution to fruit-set. Information about the workshops and survey findings were presented at two conferences and one farmer event in 2014. The researchers are in the process of developing two products from this project which will be completed in 2015: (1) a factsheet for farmers on sustainable pollination practices that will include case study examples from four farms in the state, and (2) a peer reviewed journal article submitted to The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension. Overall, participants provided positive evaluations of the workshops and said they found them valuable and informative. We hope that the combination of these workshops and the related products will help Maine fruit growers move toward more sustainable pollination practices in the future.
The goal of our SARE project is to identify ways to improve outreach and education for farmers in the Northeast so that they have the knowledge and resources necessary to secure sustainable crop pollination. To achieve this goal, we developed four project objectives. The four objectives, as stated in the proposal, are listed below. For each objective we briefly describe progress toward the objective to date.
Objective 1: Introduce a minimum of 60 farmers to native bee conservation and utilization strategies. Four free pollination workshops were held for apple, lowbush blueberry, and squash growers during the spring and summer of 2014. In total, 38 growers and members of agricultural groups attended the workshop. This was below the goal of 60 farmers, however, we believe that those in attendance received exemplary hand-on training in how to assess their pollinator force and how to enhance wild bee habitat. In the original proposal we stated that we would host three workshops. We added an additional workshop for lowbush blueberry growers so that we could reach growers in the two main blueberry growing regions in Maine. This additional workshop was held at no extra cost.
Objective 2: Document the obstacles farmers face to employing native bee conservation and utilization strategies following the native bee workshops. This objective was accomplished by conducting social science surveys and semi-structured interviews with workshop participants. In total, 19 blueberry growers completed pre-workshop surveys about their pollination practices, and 11 completed post-workshop surveys about the practices they implemented following the workshop, the challenges/successes they experienced, their plans to use various pollination practices in the future, and their assessment of the workshops. Seven apple growers completed pre-workshop surveys. Because Maine apple growers have not previously been surveyed about their pollination management practices, and because the seven apple workshop participants are only a small percentage of growers in the state, we also mailed the pre-workshop survey to apple growers on the Maine State Pomological Society mailing list. Thirty apple growers completed the mail survey, for a total of 37 surveys detailing apple growers’ pollination practices. The Maine State Pomological Society paid for the mailing, so no additional cost was billed to SARE. Finally, we conducted four follow-up interviews with workshop participants (two apple and two blueberry growers) to document their successes and challenges implementing the practices taught at the workshops.
Objective 3: Identify ways to improve future Extension outreach and education programs on native bee conservation and utilization. We are in the process of analyzing the survey and interview data to achieve this objective. In particular, in accordance with our original proposal, we are focusing our analysis on: (1) farmers’ evaluations of the teaching methods used at the workshops, (2) farmers’ evaluation of the content presented at the workshops, and (3) input on how to improve future workshops. We are currently working on one product associated with this objective: a peer-reviewed journal article on the obstacles farmers face to implementing native bee conservation practices that will include recommendations for helping farmers overcome these obstacles through improved outreach and education programs. We just completed an additional product, a short report for blueberry growers that briefly summarizes some findings from the pre-workshop surveys and includes recommendations for future outreach. The report is attached in section 4.
Objective 4: Engage in outreach to promote discussion and reflection among researchers, farmers, and Extension personnel on the obstacles to integrating native bees into pollination management practices and ways to overcome these obstacles. To date, we have presented findings from this project to an audience of approximately 100 farmers and industry people at the 2014 Maine Wild Blueberry Field Day held at Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro, Maine in July, 2014. We also presented findings from the workshops at the North American Blueberry Researchers and Extension Workers (NABREW) Conference in Atlantic City, NJ in July, 2014, and the 20th International Conference for the Society for Human Ecology held in Bar Harbor, Maine in October, 2014. This spring we will share findings at three Extension “twilight” meetings that farmers attend to learn about safe pesticide handling and receive credits to maintain their pesticide licenses. Next year, we will present findings at the Common Ground Country Fair and the Maine Agricultural Trade Show.
- Apple growers practice counting bees on apple blossoms to assess bee visitation at a pollination workshop at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Maine in May, 2014
- Farmers gather around an old apple tree to observe wild bees in action at a free pollination workshop for apple growers held at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Maine in May, 2014
On May 21st, 2014 we held the first pollination workshop for apple growers at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Maine. Seven apple growers and three agricultural agency representatives attended the two hour workshop. At the beginning of the workshop co-PI’s Hanes and Collum briefly described the project and asked all participants to complete a pre-workshop survey detailing their pollination practices and perceptions of managed and wild bees. The first hour of the workshop was held in a classroom and Dr. Frank Drummond introduced participants to bees’ life histories, talked about wild bee identification, and explained how to assess bee abundance and contribution to fruit set and yield. During the second hour of the workshop we took participants out into a field so they could practice identifying and counting bees and measuring bee visitation to flowers. All of the workshops followed this format.
The second and third workshops were designed specifically for wild blueberry growers. The first was held on May 28th, 2014, at Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro, Maine. Four blueberry growers and four agricultural agency representatives attended the workshop. The third was held on June 3rd, 2014, at Seven Tree View Farm in Warren, Maine. Seventeen blueberry growers and three agricultural agency people attended.
The fourth workshop was designed for squash growers and held at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Maine on July 22nd, 2014. Unfortunately, no one attended the workshop. This was disappointing, however, we suspect that it occurred because poor weather conditions forced us to reschedule the workshop twice. One challenge of the workshops was that they required good weather so that farmers could actually go outside and get hands-on experience monitoring bees on flower blossoms. Unfortunately, due to a rainy spring, three of the four workshops had to be rescheduled to rain dates. We also suspect that the lack of turnout at the squash workshop had to do with the fact that squash growers currently do not receive as much outreach as apple and blueberry growers, so have little previous exposure to such events. Despite this, overall, the workshops were very successful. Although attendance was lower than we had hoped, farmers were able to get great hands-on experience identifying and counting bees in the field. All of the participants provided positive evaluations of the workshops and said they found them valuable and informative.
Approximately two months after the workshops pre-survey respondents were mailed a follow-up survey. Respondents provided information about their use of various pollination practices following the workshops and their plans to use the practices in 2015. They also provided feedback about the workshops, which was overwhelmingly positive, and indicated future outreach and education in which they would be interested in participating. Overall, among respondents there was not a significant increase in their use of pollinator conservation practices in 2014, however, there was an increase in plans to use those strategies in the 2015 season.
In July, 2014, Collum presented a brief overview of the workshops and the pre-survey findings to a group of approximately 100 blueberry growers at the Wild Blueberry Field Day in Jonesboro, Maine. Additionally, in October, 2014, Hanes and Collum organized a panel for the 20th International Conference of the Society for Human Ecology in Bar Harbor, Maine. The panel presented on the workshops and survey results, and contrasted the project to another carried out by researchers looking at an outreach project in the Maine lobster fishery. The panel allowed us to compare and contrast education and outreach strategies that can be used to increase diversification in natural resource industries to reduce risk and increase farmer’s and fishermen’s ability to adapt to change. The panel was one of the most well received at the conference. Finally, in July, 2014, Drummond presented a paper on the project at the NABREW conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In November and December of 2014, Collum conducted follow-up interviews with four workshop participants (two apple and two blueberry growers) to learn about the successes and challenges they experienced while implementing or attempting to implement the practices taught at the workshops. The interviews lasted between 1 and 2 hours and were recorded and transcribed. These interviews are now being analyzed along with the survey data and are being used to create two products: (1) a factsheet and (2) a peer-reviewed journal article. The factsheet will include brief summaries of sustainable pollination practices, including how to build bee nesting items, identify important bee species, monitor bee populations around fields, and assess bees’ contribution to fruit set. The factsheet will also include short case studies of the experiences of the four farmers who were interviewed. The factsheet will be published on UMaine Cooperative Extension websites to ensure that farmers have easy access to the resource. We anticipate that this will be completed and posted online in spring, 2015. The journal article is being prepared for The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension. We plan to submit the article by April 2015. Finally, we will present project results at three farm twilight meetings this spring.
- Farmers observe as Dr. Frank Drummond demonstrates how to use a 1 meter frame to measure bee visitation and potential fruit set at a pollination workshop for lowbush blueberry growers at Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro, Maine in May, 2014
- Each workshop participant was given one of these small resin blocks. The blocks contained bee specimens from the four major families of bees found in Maine: honeybees, bumble bees, sand bees and sweat bees. The blocks are small enough for farmers to carry in their pockets into the field.
- A case containing specimens of wild bee found in Maine. Farmers were encouraged to look at the diversity of wild bees to help them identify bees in their own fields.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
It is difficult to statistically measure the impact of the workshops on farmers’ pollination management practices. However, analysis of the pre- and post-workshop surveys reveals that participants planned to implement more pollination practices following the workshop than they did before. In particular, survey respondents indicated increased plans to implement two practices in 2015: (1) monitoring their wild bee populations and (2) assessing wild and managed bees’ contribution to fruit-set.
The most significant contributions and outcomes from this project will come from the Extension factsheet and peer-reviewed article. The factsheet will not only synthesize information on alternative pollination practices to help farmer’s diversity their pollination sources and reduce their risk, but through the short case studies will also expose farmers to strategies that have worked for their colleagues. We believe farmers will greatly benefit from seeing what bee conservation practices their peers have tried or are currently attempting on their farms.
The peer-reviewed article will be geared toward agricultural educators and Extension workers and will focus on recommendations for improving future education and outreach efforts. This paper will add to the existing literature to help guide educators toward more effective teaching methods.
It is our hope that the combination of these products and our outreach presentations will give farmers the tools and knowledge they need to move toward more sustainable pollination management. Based on current literature and our previous research, we consider “sustainable pollination management” to be management that actively draws on more than one source for pollination in order to reduce risk. Additionally, sustainable pollination management includes efforts to protect and promote native pollinators, which serve as a critical form of pollination insurance for farmers. A sustainable pollination management approach might include stocking both commercial bumble bees and honeybees while also planting bee friendly plants, reducing pesticide applications, or allowing marginal land to grow up in wildflowers to provide a pollen and nectar source for wild bees.
In addition to our publications in progress, we have already developed two products related to this project. The first is technical report that was presented at the North American Blueberry Research and Extension Workers (NABREW) conference in July, 2014, in Atlantic City, NJ. The technical report will soon be published in the 2014 Proceedings of the North American Blueberry Research and Extension Workers Association Annual Meeting. A final draft of the report is attached. We also produced a short, five page report detailing the blueberry pollination workshops and survey results. This report is attached, and will be included in the 2014 Annual Wild Blueberry Research Report which is distributed to the Wild Blueberry Commission and made available to growers.
- 2014 Report for the Wild Blueberry Commission on Results of the blueberry pollination workshops
- Pollination Toolbox Report for NABREW Conference and Proceedings
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University of Maine
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