Habitat is the key ingredient for pollinator protection. It provides the flowers pollinators rely on for sustenance as well as the nest sites they call home. That’s why Bee Better Certified™ asks farms to dedicate at least 5% of their total farm area to pollinator habitat. Habitat can be adapted to the particularities of each farm operation; helping farmers meet the baseline standards while ensuring that their operation can continue to be managed productively. Not only is habitat necessary to support pollinators, but it is also a beautiful addition to farms that can provide additional benefits including pest control from natural enemies of crop pests and erosion control.
We split our habitat designation into two types: permanent and temporary. Permanent habitat provides year-round resources, while temporary habitat can be used to provide resources when other blooms might be scarce.
Due to its permanent nature, there is less flexibility in where and how permanent habitat can be incorporated into a farm operation. For row-crop operations, it is most easily incorporated along field edges, roadsides, fencelines and odd-shaped unproductive areas; in perennial crops, it can comprise the understory, or be placed around fields. Permanent habitat can range from woody— such as forests and hedgerows— to herbaceous beetle banks and wildflower meadows.
Temporary habitat is more flexible because it can be incorporated into crop rotations. Flowering cover crops can be planted between productive rows or rotated into crop fields during fallow periods to support pollinators while improving soil nutrition and reducing soil loss. In perennial crops, wildflowers can be added between rows as “alley crops.” If the presence vegetation might impede equipment, the planting can be comprised of early-blooming species and ephemerals that are finished blooming before harvest. We also count mass-flowering crops, like canola and sunflower, as temporary pollinator resource that may be a part of achieving habitat minimums.
It is important to remember that when habitat is planted directly in fields, there is a heightened potential for exposure to high risk pesticides. When a pesticide application is necessary near temporary in- field habitat, blooms should be removed 24 hours prior to spraying to ensure bees disperse from the site. Habitat planted around fields can also be contaminated by pesticide drift. To ensure that pollinator habitat is protected, review the guidelines for buffers in section 2.3.c in the Bee Better Certified Production Standards.
Getting started with habitat
There are numerous resources available to assist with habitat design, implementation and management. Xerces has partnered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to produce a series of habitat guides. In addition Xerces offers consultation services to assist with meeting the Bee Better Certified Production Standards. The NRCS also offers a pollinator habitat planning option, known as a Pollinator Conservation Activity Plan. Eligible farmers can apply for cost-share support to create specific beneficial habitat types through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). A full list of NRCS-supported practices that can benefit pollinators can be found in Appendix A in the Bee Better Certified Production Standards.