You have probably heard of the alarming rates of decline of bees over the past many years. This is acting as a threat to global food security as bees are important crop pollinators.
A report just released by The Organic Center, titled “The Role of Organic in Supporting Pollinator Health,” reviewed 71 studies detailing current threats to the bee pollinators and the impact of organic practices. It found that organic methods not only reduce risks to bees, but actively support the growth and health of populations of bees and other pollinators. The paper outlines pollinator-friendly techniques used by organic farmers that can also be incorporated into conventional farming systems.
Seventy-five percent of all crops grown for food rely on pollinators, mostly honey bees, for a successful harvest. But over the past decade, the bee population has plummeted. Since 2006, beekeepers have lost over a third of their bee hives. Without pollination from honey bees, many favorite fruits and vegetables such as apples, berries, carrots and onions would not be on our grocery shelves.
The Center’s report notes that no one certain factor has been consistently singled out as the cause of the bee declines. Instead, a number of factors including exposure to toxic pesticides, parasite and pathogen infections, poor nutrition and loss of habitat all play a role, and likely in a synergistic fashion. The threat to bees is large -scale chemically intensive agricultural production.
Organic farming, because of the practices it follows, has been demonstrated by a number of studies to support more pollinators than conventional farming.
Organic practices have been found to protect and support the health of bees in two critical ways:
- Less exposure to toxic chemicals. One of the biggest threats to bee health is exposure to toxic chemical pesticides through insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other synthetic toxins used in industrial agriculture. Neonicotinoids, a widely used class of insecticides, are found by many studies to be especially harmful to bees. Neonicotinoids can be applied not only as a spray, which is toxic to all insects, but also as a seed coating. When seeds are treated with neonicotinoids, the toxin then transfers into plant tissue and is present in the plant’s nectar and sap, which bees feed on. Organic farming standards largely prohibit organic farmers from using synthetic pesticides and require them to use integrated pest management (IPM) techniques instead of relying solely on pesticides.
- Protection of the bee’s native habitat and biodiversity. Lack of habitat and nutritional food sources are key factors in pollinator decline. Bees need a diversity of plants from which to collect sufficient pollen and nectar to support their hives. Because organic producers are required to manage their farms in a way that maintains and improves natural resources, organic farms tend to have a more diverse landscape with more flowering plants to support and feed bees.
Nature was designed to work in a symbiotic balance, and in supporting this through organic farming, you support healthier pollinator communities through practices such as crop rotations, hedgerow planting and the use of integrated pest management techniques.