Why are all the bumblebees dead? Or: The nutritional desert of mono-floral agriculture.

Rows of monocrop canola against a dark cloudy sky.

Before we begin I’d like to start with these two seemingly unrelated statements.

Rabbit starvation is a condition where when one eats only rabbit, you can actually die of complications due to malnutrition in a surprisingly short period of time. This is caused not by a lack of food but a lack of variety.

Ok? Now put a pin in that for the moment.

Humankind’s advancements in agriculture is nothing short of amazing. With great progress in engineering, seed development, treatments for pests and disease we can produce more food per hectare in the history of the human race.

When we take a look at how the farming life has changed over the last 80 years, the contrast is huge.

Back in the day, farms were mixed where they would produce a little of everything (focusing on household needs) with one or two primary crops or livestock.

Now farmers are specialists. Hundreds to thousands of acres are dedicates to one crop, and every effort has been made to make every acre owned tillable. Have a low marshy spot? Drain it. A couple of acres of bush out back? Clear it, burn it, and till it. All that room past the power poles near the ditches? Till that too! Plant every square foot with grain, or canola, or sunflowers, or soybeans and keep those yields maximized because a farm is expensive and risk laden and good years provide security for the bad ones.

Back to the rabbits! Carrots are a healthy vegetable. Chicken is a great source of animal protein. Half the world lives on rice. However, if I fed you strictly carrots for 3 weeks then took all your carrots away and provided you with chicken and nothing else for two weeks, then switched that to rice for a month? Would you die? No you would not. But you would be unwell. Your health would be compromised to some extent, and you would not be functioning at 100%

Now what if your infant were subjected to that diet?

THAT is what we are doing to our pollinators. Reduced variety means that these insects receive a lower level of nutrition from foraging, and it’s ongoing. This impacts fertility and other reproductive factors but most importantly these pollinators collect pollen to feed and raise the next generation. This does not provide the optimal building blocks required for good chances of survival.

Yes, pesticides and climate change are serious contributors to population declines but in all conservation success stories, it’s habitat that is the foundation of intervention and recovery.

We need incentives for farmers to set aside acreage. By increasing borders around cropland that can be dedicated to mixed planting of good nectar sources, and by setting aside lowlands or bush for habitat space. We also need to have municipalities enforce riparian zone laws and proper drainage boundaries by keeping tilled soil 10 yards from the ditches. This allows plants other than cultivated plants to grow to provide variety for pollinators while keeping herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer runoffs to more reduced levels. While you’re at it, can we not spray and mow the ditches repetitively all summer long? Yes, I get it. Weed control and maximizing efficiency. At the cost of a rapidly disappearing link in the food chain. So worth it. Ever notice how many songbirds we had growing up? Not so many now eh?

All pollinators are endangered. Soon we will need to stop calling it β€œpopulation decline” or β€œspecies reduction” and start calling it what it REALLY is: Extinction. Between the things we wont change, and the things we can’t change, there will be no interruption on the downward population spiral of all insects, including the crucial ones we count on.

What can you do? Well, if you are a farmer you can take a look at the Bee Friendly Farming program from Pollinator Partnership Canada https://www.pollinator.org/bff/bff-ca

By becoming a Bee Friendly Farming member, you can help preserve and protect the pollinator populations by implementing positive, incremental changes on your property. BFF helps farmers incorporate affordable, simple, science-based guidelines, like offering nutrition and habitats for bees, and integrated pest management strategies.β€―

Not a farmer? Urban areas need a lot of love too! Planting pollinator friendly plants in your garden, maintaining a consistent source of water, and restricting the use of pesticides can create a safe space oasis for dozens of species of pollinators, even in tiny spaces!

For planting lists email John at honeyb@mymts.net