Seventy-five percent of all crops grown for food rely on pollinators, mostly honey bees, for a successful harvest. But since 2006, beekeepers have lost over a third of their bee hives. Honey bees are responsible for about $12.4 billion worth of crops in the United States alone every year, including many favorite fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots, onions and broccoli.
No one factor has been consistently singled out as the cause of the massive bee population declines. Instead, a number of factors including exposure to toxic pesticides, parasite and pathogen infections, poor nutrition and loss of habitat likely interact together, resulting in lethal consequences for bees. Large-scale chemically intensive agricultural production has been implicated as a major source of the threats to pollinators.
Fortunately, organic farming practices can be effective in maintaining the health and population of important crop pollinators, predominantly bees, which have been declining at an alarming rate in the last decade and threatening global food security.
This project reviews over 70 studies on pollinators, the causes of the development of Colony Collapse Disorder, and the impact of organic practices. It found that organic methods can not only reduce risks to bees, but actively support the growth and health of the populations of bees and other pollinators. The paper outlines pollinator-friendly techniques commonly used by organic farmers that can also be incorporated into conventional farming systems.
This project shows that organic farming, because of the practices it follows, has been demonstrated to support more pollinators than conventional farming. Organic practices have been found to protect and support the health of bees in two critical ways:
Less exposure to toxic chemicals. One of the biggest threats to bee health is exposure to toxic chemical pesticides through insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other synthetic toxins used in industrial agriculture. Neonicotinoids, a widely used class of insecticides, are found by many studies to be especially harmful to bees. Organic farming standards largely prohibit an organic farmer from using synthetic pesticides and to use integrated pest management (IPM) techniques instead of relying solely on pesticides.
Protection of the bee’s native habitat and biodiversity. Lack of habitat and nutritional food sources are key factors in pollinator decline. Bees need a diversity of plants from which to collect sufficient pollen and nectar to support their hives. Because organic producers are required to manage their farms in a way that maintains and improves the natural resources of that operation, organic farms tend to have a more diverse landscape with more flowering plants to support and feed bees.
The Organic Center’s study follows the recent release from the White House of its official strategy to protect bees and other pollinators. The White House strategy provides funding to protect bee habitat, for research, and directs the Environmental Protection Agency to re-evaluate neonicotinoids.
Dr. Tracy Misiewicz, The Organic Center
Dr. Jessica Shade, The Organic Center
The Organic Center