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Bee-ing Better for Pollinators
By: Lindsay White, USDA - 06/24/2019

Pollinators and their habitats are an integral part of agricultural landscapes and, recognizing recent pollinator population declines, producers across the United States are stepping up to create and maintain pollinator habitat on their farmland. These voluntary efforts exemplify the symbiotic relationship of healthy pollinator ecosystems and working lands.

The Xerces Society, with the support of a 2016 Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been working with NRCS staff and producers across the country to certify pollinator habitat under a new Bee Better Certification that identifies for consumers agricultural products were produced using pollinator-friendly practices.

Thus far, the project has certified seven farms covering more than 4,000 acres and anticipates certifying another 18,000 acres of farmland over the next two years.

"Through our grant, not only has the Xerces team been able to build a certification program that to date is protecting hundreds of acres of pollinator habitat, it has also been able to test the model on a range of pilot farms spread across the country," says Cameron Newell, the Bee Better Certification coordinator. "The grant funding has allowed us to build a solid foundation for the continued success of a one-of-a-kind, pollinator-focused farm certification program that makes agricultural landscapes better for bees."

Klickitat Canyon and Columbia Gorge Winery is a family-owned organic vineyard and winery near the Columbia River in southeastern Washington. The Dobson Family bought the property from a cattle rancher 25 years ago and converted it to vineyards, seeding native meadow in between the vines.

In the decades since, the meadows have flourished, providing habitat for pollinators as well as on-farm benefits. "It's amazing how well the meadow's done over a couple of decades," says Kiva Dobson, who runs the vineyard and winery with his family. "There haven't been any problems with vineyard pests or invasive species. It's really held its own."

With five acres of pollinator-friendly meadow established, and another 20 acres of natural oak woodland on the property, they have been working in recent years to include more late-flowering plants to the meadow. The Dobsons also have plans to establish additional habitat on two more acres as they expand the vineyard. Klickitat's practices made them perfect candidates for early Bee Better Certification, and they will be the first producers to carry the certification label on a line of vinegars.

Another project participant, Open Hands Farm, just south of Minneapolis, Minne., has strong relationships with their community through a 180-member community-supported agriculture program and working with Minneapolis school system. Working closely with NRCS and the Xerces Society over the past three years, Erin Johnson and Ben Doherty, the farm owners, have installed two acres of pollinator habitat, including six pollinator strips. Erin and Ben have also installed a water retention basin, adding water-loving plants in the surrounding prairie, which helps drain stormwater on the farm--and neighboring acres.

Many of the farms working with the Xerces Society on certification are early-adopters of pollinator-friendly practices and will provide good examples of practices and habitat establishment for other farms to follow. As farms continue to achieve certification and begin to display the Bee Better branding, consumer awareness will grow and generate additional momentum around the certification.

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