Ideas. Stories. Community.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Farm News & Views for week of July 23, 2023

Last week, the National Weather Service released a new U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map which shows drought intensifying in the Four Corners Region and much of New Mexico, western Colorado, the eastern half of both Utah and Arizona, which seems likely, since the hot conditions of the past couple of weeks and lack of rainfall have moved the Four Corners Region into abnormally dry conditions, according to the Drought Monitor Map

In June, the Bee Informed Partnership, a national nonprofit organization that works with beekeepers to improve honey bee health, reported that from April 2022 to April 2023, beekeepers in the United States lost over 48% of their managed honey bee colonies, which was 9% higher than last year’s estimated annual loss. The organization points out that the demand for pollination from commercial bee colonies is growing even though beekeepers have to work harder to make up these losses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 75% of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on insect and animal pollinators to reproduce. More than 3,500 species of native bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, beetles and other insects help to increase crop yields, and honeybees are responsible for 80% of that pollination.

New research by scientists at the University of California San Diego revealed that as key pollinators, bees play an important role in the region’s floral diversity, but not all bees have the same influence on the plants they pollinate. Pollination by honey bees, which are not native to the Americas, produces plant offspring of considerably inferior quality. The study is believed to be the first to directly compare plant offspring fitness resulting from honey bee pollination when compared with other floral visitors. Previous research at U.C. San Diego found that feral honey bees account for more than 90 percent of the pollinators observed visiting flowers of abundantly blooming native plant species around the city, and researchers determined that honey bees visit approximately twice as many flowers on an individual plant before moving to the next plant, while native insects visit more plants during their daily rounds. This methodical foraging behavior of honey bees appears to have a detrimental effect on reproduction in the plants they visit because most of the pollen delivered to flowers will come from the same individual plant, and this may lead to lower-quality plant offspring. Researchers inferred that while the honey bees were busy, they may not be as good for plants as most native pollinators.

Research involving a broad range of crops found that wild bees significantly improved fruit set whether or not honey bees were in fields. Wild bees can be more effective pollinators than honey bees, because they fly earlier in the spring, are better adapted for flying under poor weather conditions, and in warm, sunny weather, they often begin foraging earlier in the morning and fly later into the afternoon. Also, if bee diversity is high, when populations of one or several species fluctuate due to parasites or disease, the other species continue to provide stable pollination.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman leader and stoic philosopher wrote: “That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees.”

Here is some additional information about encouraging native bees in your garden, yard or farm.

When bees are mentioned, some folks immediately think of honey bees, or, because of getting stung by yellow jacket wasps or hornets, they have the opinion that the only good bee (wasps) is a dead one. However, for most of the native bees, with the exception of some bumble bees, their sting is not intense. This website lists most of the bees found in Colorado. Although wasps and hornets are pollinators too, they don’t make good neighbors, but as you may see from the above website, some bees look a bit like wasps, so you may need to do some homework to determine if the bee visiting your garden is one that you want to welcome.

This Penn State Extension web site has a lot of interesting information about bee species, developing habitat for native bees, an interesting section about where native bees are likely to have nest sites, and ling to additional information.

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.