Although some crops do not require the help of pollinators, industrial farmers should adopt wildlife-friendly strategies to help counter the “Bee Crisis.”
The current model of industrial farming is not sustainable. The booming human population requires more and more food, and in order to meet the demands, industrial farming has become the go-to solution. Industrial farming strategies focus on growing monocultures—massive fields of only one type of crop—and the aggressive use of pesticides and herbicides.
Both of those strategies are contributing factors to the “Bee Crisis” and therefore linked to the weakening honeybee population.
Several fruits and vegetables which are crucial to a balanced human diet are pollinated by honeybees in particular. Beth Gardiner’s article entitled “A Dangerous Cycle in Food Production” names some of the crops that bees are known to pollinate:
What is more, pollinator-dependent foods provide a disproportionate share of important vitamins and minerals, experts say. They include fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, everything from apples, citrus and tomatoes to grapes, cucumbers and broccoli.
If we lose bees as a viable pollinator, our only other option would be to hand-pollinate these bee-dependent crops ourselves. Our survival as a species is connected to the survival of bees.
Breaking Down the Bee Crisis
The “Bee Crisis” is an ongoing phenomenon caused by a complex array of interconnected factors. In order to keep this interesting, I’m going to illustrate these various factors. I could just give you a list and a description of each, but I’ve already written in detail about these things in my previous posts. This is mainly a refresher (or basic primer for the new reader).
Imagine that you are a bee. You’re not genetically adapted to resist pesticides or the new diseases, viruses, and other pathogens that are out there. Most of the food available to you is sprayed with pesticides, and your diet lacks variety because of the acres upon acres of monocultures being grown. You are suffering from malnutrition, and eventually your weakened immune system becomes compromised by the Varroa mite.
I’ll leave the story there and provide you with a chart to help break these factors down.
Now, looking at the chart, one might say that the best strategy for overcoming the “Bee Crisis” would be to fix the poor genetic variety that honeybees suffer from. That could potentially help honeybees become more resistant to disease and pesticides. Fortunately, that’s already being investigated. According to an article entitled “Bees, Inc.” by Josh Dzieza, several parties are working towards a stronger honeybee:
Washington State University is working on a bee sperm bank to boost breeding efforts and diversify the bee population’s homogeneous gene pool; the USDA is working with commercial pollinators to breed bees capable of handling the stresses of modern agriculture; the USDA is also breeding bees for Varroa resistance; and the company Beeologics, bought by Monsanto in 2011, is working on a gene-silencing technology that would make bees’ blood deadly to mites. (51)
So, moving down to the next item in the chart, we have industrial farming, which involves two factors that heavily impact the health of bees: loss of habitat and pesticides.
Most people believe that pesticides is the main contributing factor to the “Bee Crisis.” In a previous post (“Public Familiarity of the “Bee Crisis”), I wrote about my survey that gauged the public’s familiarity with the “Bee Crisis” and asked them a few questions about their opinion. The results pointed out that my survey participants thought that pesticides was the main problem, with a score of 5.30.
Pesticides are indeed a critical contributing factor to the crisis. Colonies can be destroyed “if [pesticides] hit a hive or are sprayed when bees are foraging” (Dzieza 50). Some seeds are even pre-treated with pesticides. Scientists haven’t found any evidence that seeds pre-treated with neonicotinoids kill bees outright, but bees can experience a weakened immune system and disorientation instead (Dzieza 49).
Even though pesticides are such a problem, it’s not very feasible to suddenly stop using pesticides cold turkey. After all, pesticides are used for a reason—they keep away the pests that ruin crops and result in higher crop yields that can feed more people. The next item on the hierarchy chart to consider then, is the loss of habitat.
What we need is a compromise, a way to replace the effects of pesticides in a way that is friendly towards pollinators and other wildlife. Introducing wildlife-friendly strategies to industrial farming would involve recreating habitats for pollinators and other key wildlife (mostly pest-predators such as birds).
Dzieza, Josh. “Bees, Inc.” Pacific Standard 8.1 (2015): 44-53. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Gardiner, Beth. “A Dangerous Cycle in Food Production.” The New York Times. 19 Oct. 2015. Web. 2 Sept. 2016.
Pywell, Richard F. et al. “Wildlife-Friendly Farming Increases Crop Yield: Evidence for Ecological Intensification.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282.1816 (2015): 20151740. PMC. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.