by Jenn Doelman, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
With summer starting up, we all look forward to the bounty of fresh foods coming in season over the next few months. Juicy strawberries, summer salads, and fresh green beans are just a few of the delicious foods that we have access to thanks to a variety of pollinators in our Ontario ecosystem. Pollinators play a behindthe-scenes role, but this doesn’t discount their significance. In fact, pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food and add $217 billion to the global economy.
Protecting pollinator health is an important responsibility that we all share. Pollinators support healthy ecosystems which in turn, clean the air and water, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) wants to share a reminder of the need for a healthy ecosystem to maintain a strong and resilient food system. This starts with supporting and protecting nature’s behind-the-scenes workers – the pollinators.
When we think of pollinators, honeybees are the first thing that come to mind, but this role can also be played by butterflies, wasps, moths, bats, birds, and other small mammals. Canada has close to 700 different types of native pollinators that support the growth of 75-95% of all flowering plants on earth. This diversity of pollinators and plants is ultimately what builds resilience in our food system. When one species is impacted by a drought, frost or other environmental conditions, another species is tolerant and can fill the gap.
Unfortunately, pollinators, and especially bees, are susceptible to external factors such as weather, disease/pests, habitat loss, and chemical exposure. Not just one thing is to blame and it’s a complex system to support.
As a beekeeper, I appreciate the greater connection I have to the environment around me and the contribution my hives can make to the surrounding ecosystem. As a farmer, this hobby has helped me acknowledge the importance of stewardship practices and the benefits of my hives for the farm. While it is a shared responsibility, farmers do have a large role to play in supporting pollinator populations.
Enhancing pollinatorfriendly habitats on or around the farm is a great place to start. We like to take advantage of the buffer strips between fields to plant pollinator mixes, restoring natural habitats for existing pollinators with important food and nesting sites. As an added benefit, planting pollinator mixes can control invasive weed populations along buffer strips and into fields.
Making an effort to incorporate integrated pest management in farming practices is another great way to support your surrounding ecosystem. Use pest control products responsibly by minimizing use where possible and follow product labels to apply as directed. Being conscious of hive locations or pollinator habitats nearby can also help mitigate damage to pollinator populations.
When possible, we try to avoid applying insecticides during foraging hours, instead applications can be done in early mornings or after dark. Having a diverse crop rotation, scouting often, and working with an agronomist to understand best management practices can all be highly impactful strategies. Pesticides are a very important tool for farmers, but they are definitely not the only tool.
Ultimately, being champions and advocating for pollinator health is important to protect populations. Even in urban centres, encouraging others to seek ways to support local pollinator habitats and food sources can have a positive outcome. Planting native wildflowers in urban gardens and increasing plant diversity in backyards can both help. With greater awareness of how we can all contribute to the solution; pollinator populations can thrive.
Pollinators are the foundation of local ecology and a keystone point in our ecosystem. A crucial partnership exists between pollinators and flowering plants to maintain a robust food system and a healthier environment.