Pollinators in Peril: orchestrating a new flight of the bumblebee

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 3:08 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - According to the Bee Conservancy, one in every three bites of food you take has been pollinated by bees.

There are over four thousand native bee species in the United States - but right now, about a fourth of them are on the brink of extinction.

With these pollinators in peril – Brian Fredricksen is proposing a unique solution: pay farmers not to farm.

Fredricksen keeps 400 honeybee hives on his 40 acre property outside Minneapolis.

His farm looks a lot different than the rest of the state. Instead of neat rows of corn and soybeans, he’s letting nature reclaim its acreage. It’s a chaos by design that he believes is the key to saving native pollinators.

“We’ve essentially traded away the monarch butterfly, our bumblebees, our native pollinators and our commercial beekeeping here in Minnesota for ethanol and corn syrup,’ said Fredricksen.

He says corn and soybeans, which make up 127 million acres of the Midwest, are dead zones to pollinators.

“Native pollinators live on a small piece of a couple hundred acres. And once that area gets developed or plowed under, then there’s no longer any place for them to live.”

Now, he’s asking the government to do something seemingly illogical.

He wants them to pay farmers not to farm.

“What we need the USDA to to do this year in the farm bill is add more acres to our conservation reserve program. That allows farmers to offer their land up to be idle for a number of years under contract that the USDA pays them”

The conservation reserve program was introduced in the 1985 farm bill, and some iteration has been in every farm bill since, but it’s becoming less of a priority.

“It was really popular in the 1990s. There’s 33 million acres that were under CRP. It dropped to all time low in 2021 through on 20 million acres,” said Fredricksen.

Part of that could be the cost. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the program accounts for about 2 billion dollars per fiscal year.

But as Fredricksen tries to orchestrate this flight of the bumblebee, he wants to remind lawmakers that there wouldn’t be agricultural without these insects.