RICHMOND, Va. — They can’t drive a tractor or milk the cows, but native pollinators put in a hard day’s work on Virginia farms.
Native bees, butterflies, beetles, ants and flies are the stars of National Pollinator Week, June 22-28. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the designation of National Pollinator Week in 2007 to help address the issue of declining pollinator populations. The observance has since grown into an international celebration by the nonprofit Pollinator Partnership.
According to the organization’s website, inadequate crop pollination will reduce yields; result in inferior food flavor; produce smaller, misshapen fruits with fewer seeds; slow fruit maturation; increase the potential for crop disease; and ultimately hurt a farmer’s bottom line. Pollinators are responsible for $20 billion of U.S. products annually. It is estimated that these native insects can provide up to 30% of pollination needs, but pollinators and their habitats are declining.
However, farmers can increase the numbers of pollinators on their land with practices like planting cover crops that offer nutrition and habitats for bees.
Information on the website said farmers who implement programs for improving pollinator habitat may be qualified for financial support through a local extension offices or soil and water conservation districts.
Henrico County beekeepers Matthew and Brandy Stargell of Stargell’s Apiaries provide pollination services for farms near and far.
“We have farmers reach out to us for pollinating everything from berries to vine crops, apples, flowers—you name it,” noted Brandy Stargell, who also works as a Virginia Farm Bureau member service specialist. “Our bees travel up and down the East Coast pollinating various crops.”
Home gardeners also can enhance pollinator-friendly features on their property. Virginia Witmer, outreach coordinator for the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, pointed to informative online resources like PlantVirginiaNatives.org. Colorful regional native plant guides highlight species of flowering perennials, ferns, vines, grasses, shrubs and trees that attract pollinators.
“Our message is that every space, no matter how small, matters,” Witmer said. “And that every yard helps create a habitat corridor in our communities for pollinators and other wildlife.”
Witmer added that PlantVirginiaNatives.org links to many resources, including nwf.org/NativePlantFinder, which offers ZIP code-specific lists of native plants ranked by the number of butterflies and moths that use them as caterpillar host plants.
–Virginia Farm Bureau