Don’t Adopt Wildlife-friendly Farming Strategies
The important thing to know about this option is that sooner or later, it will not be sustainable. It will not be just “business as usual” because without bees to pollinate crops, harvests will decline and we will not be able to feed everyone on the planet.
This scenario has several pros and cons to it.
PRO: ALL OF THE LAND IS USED FOR GROWING CROPS
If industrial farmers don’t adopt wildlife-friendly farming strategies, then they’ll be able to keep all of their available land for growing crops. This potentially means that they will be able to use that space to grow more crops, resulting in more food harvested.
CON: REQUIRES RENTING HIVES FOR POLLINATION NEEDS
Right now, farmers have to rent bees to pollinate whatever they’re growing that isn’t either self- or wind-pollinated. Almond growing season here in California is one of the most lucrative seasons for beekeepers. One beekeeper quoted in Dzieza’s article, “Bees, Inc.” stated that “he will make about $3 million in revenue for [one] month in California, 60 percent of his earnings for the year” (Dzieza 49).
If bee losses continue to increase, then renting hives is going to cost farmers more as well. It has already happened previously, when the “Bee Crisis” first began:
Almond growers noticed the bee die-off early, when they began struggling to find enough hives for their new acreage. In 2005, a group of them converged at the American Beekeeping Federation conference in Reno, Nevada, with an offer: $125 to rent the services of a single hive for the few weeks almond trees were in bloom-double the rate from the year before. (Dzieza 49)
This is simple supply and demand at work here—with less bees available and more farmers needing pollination services, farmers will be practically fighting over them (with money). This increased cost eventually trickles down to the consumer as well with increased food prices.
PRO: SOME CROPS WOULDN’T BENEFIT FROM POLLINATORS
Not all crops benefit from increased pollinator activity, as we previously discussed. The types of crops that would not benefit are either self-pollinating or wind-pollinating. In this case, the assumption that the habitats would be a waste of crop-growing space might be passable.
CON: BEES CAN’T SURVIVE ON MONOCULTURES
Bees being limited to the pollen of only one plant would be like a human limiting their diet to only steak—malnutrition will set in and from there things the chances of survival are slim.
Farmland where monocultures are king can be dangerous for bees since they can “become malnourished from foraging in monocultural conditions, as opposed to natural habitats or even cities, where parks and gardens provide diverse sources of pollen” (Dzieza 50).
Synthetic feed does not work either. There’s something special about natural pollen:
In 2003, when beekeepers began wintering their hives in the barren pre-almond-bloom Central Valley, they tried to feed their bees supplements, and the bees died. The beekeepers approached Gloria Hoffman, the head of the USDA bee research laboratory in Tucson, and asked for help making a better feed. She made one, but when she tried to keep bees alive on that and nothing else, those colonies declined, too. She concluded that bee nutrition isn’t just a matter of protein and vitamins; pollen has microbes that, fermented into bee bread, likely play an important role in digestion. (Dzieza 51)
So far, I would conclude that the cons still outweigh the pros of this scenario. Wildlife-friendly strategies can be beneficial to both bees and farmers if properly managed. We should consider the pros and cons of that option as well.
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.