Bee protection, sustainability and agriculture come together – thanks to Integrated Farm Management. With this system, Bayer’s Alice Johnston plans and coordinates measures that benefit pollinators such as honey bees, bumble bees and wild bees. Johnston demonstrates what integrated approaches look like in practice on Bayer’s Orchard Farm in the English countryside.
// Pollinators like bees are important in sustainable agriculture.
// Integrated farming helps honey bees, wild bees and bumble bees to flourish alongside good crop yields.
// Bayer is demonstrating how integrated farm management practices can work on their field stations in the UK.
// Model farms will be opened around the world as part of the ForwardFarming Program.
Bayer’s Orchard Farm is a former fruit plantation that covers 20 hectares of hilly terrain near Cambridge. The hard, rich clay soil used to be primarily planted with apple and plum trees. Today, mixed crops are cultivated on over half of the land. With its ash trees, oaks, sycamores and wild cherry trees, the area is a diverse habitat for birds, and many insect species thrive within the remaining woodland, including 23 species of butterflies and 140 species of moths. Additionally, beehives have been kept on the farm for over 20 years.
As the sun sets behind the trees of the Orchard Farm, Alice Johnston checks the farm’s beehives one more time: The honeycombs are full of honey and the bees are thriving. “For us, this is a sign of success,” explains Johnston. She is the Application and Stewardship Coordinator and is involved in the Integrated Farm Management at Orchard Farm, one of Bayer’s field stations near Cambridge, England.
Sustainable agriculture means flourishing bee colonies alongside good yields. “We are trying out different ways to optimize our less productive land use for bees and other pollinating insects, so that they can stay healthy and help secure productivity in the long term,” says Johnston. Bee protection and sustainable measures should be incorporated into everyday farming practices. Specifically, Johnston focuses on providing the honey bees, wild bees, bumble bees and birds on the farm with two key things they need, namely food and nesting places.
Application and Stewardship Coordinator Integrated Farm Management
On her way back to the main building, Johnston walks through the old plum orchard: “We’ve kept this small plot of land as a conservation area. It’s a good example of what Integrated Farm Management can look like in practice,” she explains. The plum trees in the orchard are of the Marjorie’s Seedling variety, which blossoms particularly early. Come spring, they are one of the first ports of call for bees scouting for food sources. Many cultivated plants have a short flowering period, but bees have to be able to gather food over many months.
“It’s important to stretch the blooming period for as long as possible through the year.”
Fruit trees and hedges are just one example of Integrated Farm Management methods used. “We are developing the farms so they enhance the local environment whilst keeping their primary focus of investigating new crop protection solutions and seed varieties intact,” explains Johnston. A second trial farm just a little further north, is a patchwork of flat fields. Johnston works with the farm team to help create the best possible environment for wild bees and other insects on both farms. The areas near field tracks also serve as habitats, and the tall tussock grasses – also known as bunch grass – on the sides of the track are ideal nesting sites for bumble bees and other insects. “It’s mostly bumble bees and wild bees that like to nest in these ‘beetle banks’, as they are called,” says Johnston. “They can find a large variety of food right by their nesting place because the fields are edged with strips of flowers.”
The Bayer expert believes that bee-friendly landscaping should not stop at farm boundaries.
She has been compiling material to inform the public about bee health and habitat requirements for pollinators. Visitors can also gain a good impression of integrated farming once a year at the local Open Farm Sunday, when a number of employees from Bayer help at local farms which open their gates to the public and specialist visitors. “We want to bring farmers, beekeepers and the general public closer together because healthy bees are extremely important for all of them. The event gives them the opportunity to understand what really happens on a farm and to discuss any issues face-to-face,” says Johnston.
Both farms demonstrate just how well bee protection, sustainability and agriculture can work together. Habitats are developed where the land cannot be cultivated profitably – on roadsides and at the edges of fields. But it’s not just up to farmers: “Everyone can do their bit – for example, plant hedges to create privacy rather than erect wooden partitions. Leave a patch of grass to grow, or plant a wide variety of flowers which will bloom and provide food throughout several months,” says Johnston. A garden in its natural state provides important nesting places for wild bees – in old tree trunks or tall grasses, for example; and where such areas are not available, Johnston proposes the placement of artificial bee hotels to encourage solitary bees to nest in the garden. “We all have the opportunity to support many bee species”, she adds.
Sustainable farming can be adopted and practiced across the world. The goal of Bayer’s ForwardFarming Program is to bring economics together with social and environmental elements. Typical farms in Belgium, France, Germany and The Netherlands are taking part in the program, each with a different focus in crops and balance of key elements being implemented. The ForwardFarming Program links plant protection, high-quality seeds, services and stewardship elements into a comprehensive integrated farming concept in many cases supported by partners with specific knowledge and expertise in the areas of sustainability. This is where bee health, sustainability and agriculture can work together. The farms employ various measures, from observing bee studies, monitoring parasites, or assessing nesting options for different bee species to planting flower strips.www.forwardfarming.com
Beekeepers and farmers have a common interest: healthy honey bees. Farmers benefit from the bees’ pollination work, and beekeepers harvest the honey. Regular discussions help both beekeepers and farmers to work together. Many field crops, trees and flowers are a source of food for bees and humans. However, farmers do have to protect the plants against pests. They need to use plant protection products responsibly and are encouraged to inform beekeepers about their intentions to spray insecticides. Although it may not be practical or needed in many cases, it does give beekeepers the option of moving their hives or closing them when fields are being sprayed. The key to improving bee protection in agriculture is also effective communication between farmers and beekeepers.
Alongside the familiar honey bees, some 30,000 other bee species, including solitary bees and bumble bees, exist worldwide and may also help pollinate crops and wild plants.
Some bees can fly at heights of 4,550 meters: One such adapted is the bee species of the Lasioglossum genus, for example, which lives on the vegetation line of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Not every bee can collect nectar from every plant. Some flowers, such as carrot blossoms, are so small that only tiny insects can reach the nectar. Sometimes, pollinators even have to shake the blossoms of plants like tomato and blueberry so that the pollen falls out. Powerful insects like bumble bees manage this best.