Establishment of native pollinator habitat in organic and conventional small ruminant pastures

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2013: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Joan Burke
USDA, Agricultural Research Service

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees, goats, sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing management
  • Crop Production: application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Four pollinator plots were planted in fall 2015. Native grasses and forbs or flowering species were established, but weeds or non-native species persisted even though CRP (CP42) guidelines were followed. However, flowering species were present in spring, summer and fall, attracting many pollinator species. By planting a small 0.5 to 1 acre plot near livestock pastures, habitat was established and farmer experience was positive.


    Close to 75% of flowering plants worldwide rely on pollinators to set seed or fruit, providing food for humans, livestock, and wildlife. The economic value of insect-pollinated crops in the U.S., including crops and pasture grown for livestock, was estimated at $36-54 billion (Xerces, 2011). Some important crops in the southeastern U.S. that rely on pollinators are walnuts, pecans, peaches, berries, squash and other vegetables, and annual flowering forages for livestock such as clovers. Farmers are considered stewards of the land, ensuring continuation of diverse plant and wildlife for future generations. Conservation efforts can benefit both agriculture and wildlife.

    An estimated three out of every five bites of food humans take originated from plants that required insect pollination for production (Xerces, 2011). Declining populations of pollinator species such as European honeybees have potentially disastrous implications for world food production. One important way to encourage the natural regeneration of pollinator species is to protect current habitat areas and establish additional habitat. A large proportion of pollination services are carried out by native species of bees, and native pollinator habitat is used to help enhance and restore habitat for ecologically and economically important pollinator species (NRCS CRP Practice CP42). A number of pollinating insects including bees and butterflies are vulnerable to extinction due to human practices and are in critical need of conservation assistance.

    Habitat has been lost due to excessive use of herbicides, conversion of native flowering plant species to forages of agronomic value (many are non-native species), use of pesticides, and plowing or burning of nesting sites. A decline in species can also be attributed to pesticide poisoning and spread of diseases and parasites. The result has led to a reduced rate of both native and managed pollinator populations. Declining pollinator populations causes corresponding economic losses in agricultural settings (row crops) and natural areas (wildlife food sources).

    European honeybees are non-native species and are susceptible to a variety of problems, including colony collapse disorder. A significant proportion of pollination services for crops come from native pollinator species, such as ground-nesting solitary bees and bumblebees. Establishing additional pollinator habitat has many benefits, including providing habitat for beneficial insects that may prey on crop pests, reducing soil erosion and nutrient runoff, and providing habitat for declining insect species like monarch butterflies.

    Project objectives:

    1. Establish a native pollinator plot and nesting habitat on a certified organic pasture, a conventional pasture at ARS and two farms, all with small ruminants.
    2. Determine establishment of each forage species, bloom date, and persistence.
    3. Determine species of pollinators present in plots and activity in nesting sites.
    4. Determine pollinator plant species response to small ruminant grazing and response of legumes in small ruminant plots to pollinators.
    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.