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A Swiss pesticide company’s plan to bring back the bees

 

Bee

To combat a massive bee die-off, a Swiss chemical company is creating artificial meadows, complete with wildflowers. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “A Swiss pesticide company’s plan to bring back the bees” was written by Alison Moodie, for theguardian.com on Monday 4th August 2014 16.38 UTC

Scientists have been baffled by the mass die-off of honeybees that has destroyed around 10m beehives since 2007. The causes of this so-called “Colony Collapse Disorder” are still unknown, although pesticides, fungicides, stress, poor nutrition and parasites are some of the possible causes being discussed. The collapse has sometimes taken on an almost sci-fi quality. For example, honeybees mysteriously disappear from their hives. Stranger still, their bodies are seldom found.

The crisis among these creatures has scientists worried. Bees are a crucial part of the crop cycle, the pollination of several species of flowers and, of course, a vital source of breakfast honey. Now, a new initiative from Syngenta, a Swiss agribusiness and the world’s largest manufacturer of crop chemicals, aims to boost the number of pollinating insects, especially bees, on commercial farms in the US. The project, called Operation Pollinator, will grow flowers and plants on what’s known as “marginal ground”, the thin strips and edges that border large plots of commercial farmland. These areas usually total about one or two acres per plot.

“We focus on ground that might not be as productive as other areas on the farm,” says Caydee Savinelli, entomologist and Pollinator Stewardship lead for the project. Savinelli explains that the plan is to let nature take its own course, filling the plots with wildflowers. Ultimately, this results in areas that resemble undeveloped meadows.

The initiative to attract pollinating insects originated in the UK over a decade ago. It has since expanded to more than 16 countries in Europe, with more than 3,000 farmers and other agriculturalists are participating in it today.

Bringing bees to the US

Operation Pollinator began its research phase in the US in 2010. Syngenta, working with the University of California at Davis, Michigan State and the University of Florida, is currently assessing the scope of the project. They still need to determine which flowers are best suited to attract native insects, what the ideal seed mixtures are, how much the program will cost and what the maintenance schedule should be.

Operation Pollinator’s Artificial Meadows

This field, located near a golf course, is one of Operation Pollinator’s first artificial meadows. It hopes that these open spaces will encourage bee colony growth. Photograph: Syngenta

“The research and data collection is fairly intense,” says Savinelli, noting that the program is attempting to match the native insects to their ideal food sources. “We’re looking at which insects are there at which time of the year and which flowers attract them.”

Operation Pollinator already has been implemented on the marginal ground of more than 50 golf courses across 20 states. Now, Syngenta is turning its attention to commercial farms. It will launch five plots this year in northwest Mississippi, in partnership with the Delta Farmers Advocating Resource Management (Delta FARM), an association that aims to conserve and restore the environment.

A solution to multiple problems

It isn’t hard to see why these farms and golf courses are willing to partner with Operation Pollinator. In addition to its work with insect populations and plant pollination, the program may also help combat other worrisome agricultural trends, including soil erosion and water pollution.

Generally, soil erosion occurs when farmers break up and turn the soil on a field. This process, known in the industry as “tillage”, can help with weed control and is necessary for growing crops. Unfortunately, it can also weaken the soil, causing it to wash away during heavy rains.

 

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