Four Ways Farmers Promote Pollinator Health

By Mel Luymes, environmental coordinator, Farm & Food Care Ontario

This week is pollinator week, and all across Ontario insects are briskly buzzing about their business. Pollinators play an important role in agriculture and, in turn, Ontario farmers play an important role in protecting and feeding them.

Sam McLean farms in Peterborough County, and grows 175 acres of strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins, and other crops that rely on pollination. McLean is careful in his application rates and timing of pesticides, and understands that farming is all about creating balance. “We have a lot of hedgerows here, a lot of natural habitat for bees and other pollinators, so we don’t even need to bring in honeybees to pollinate our crops,” he says. 

Video Resource: Fruit farms and pollinators work together  

Sue Chan is a pollination biologist with Farms at Work and she has been working with McLean for years. “What I’m seeing is many, many species of native pollinators here, so he is obviously doing something right,” says Chan. She points to the plants in the hedgerows: basswood, sumac, elderberry, wild raspberry, even burdock and dandelions are great food and habitat for native pollinators, she says.

On the other end of the province is Mary Ellen King, a fourth-generation farmer in Lambton County who operates several hundred acres of wheat, corn and beans. “Ten to fifteen years ago we started to enhance our farms with trees, hedgerows, wetlands and native tallgrass prairie,” she says. “We need the birds and the bugs and the bees, it all works together to make a healthy farm. I like to walk around the farm in the evenings, it just sings!”

Video resource: Farmers plant cover crops for pollinators 

Kathleen Law is a master’s student at the University of Guelph and studied the ways farmers can and do promote pollinator habitat on their properties.  Farms have historically been great habitat for bees, she says. “As farming has changed and field sizes have gotten bigger, it means that farmers need to be intentional about enhancing pollinator habitat. Instead of having fencerows play that role, they can create habitat around buildings, ditches or woodlots,” she says.

“As an environmental researcher, it was really heartening to see how much cash croppers care about pollinators,” continues Law.  “Often the missing link was having the necessary information and support to go ahead with pollinator projects on farmland.”

Video resource: Riparian areas & Hedgerow Management for Pollinator Promotion

In Ontario, there are many resources for farmers interested in enhancing pollinator habitat. The Environmental Farm Plan addresses pollinators and the Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association supports projects through cost-share programs like the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) and the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative (GLASI). In certain areas, farmers may have access to the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program or Farms at Work.  Local Conservation Authorities can also be a great resource as well.

Law recommends that when farmers plant pollinator habitat, they should be more proactive in letting people know. “Put up a sign up that says who you are, what you’re doing and why,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate Ontario farm stewardship to your community and to society.”

A Saskatchewan Farm(er)

By Laura Reiter

I am involved in one of the over 36,000 farms in Saskatchewan. Now if you are like most folks, a picture or two will have popped into your head when you hear “Saskatchewan farms”.
This …

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Or maybe this …

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

You’d be right in thinking that grain and cattle operations make up the majority of the farms in Saskatchewan. But there is so much more!

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Farm & Food Care Statement on Bee Health

By Les Nichols –Farm & Food Care Environmental Council Chairman

Ontario farmers are very concerned about bee health.  We rely on bees as important pollinators of our crops – bees are of vital importance to all segments of agriculture and food.

Bee health, and specifically the possible impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides as a factor in pollinator health, is a very complex issue that is being reviewed and examined by experts around the world.

Farm & Food Care has long supported the creation of the Bee Health Working Group in Ontario, and the work of the Pest Management Regulation Agency (PMRA) as it examines and researches the concerns regarding bee health.  These are just two of many initiatives related to bees that are trying to determine what is actually happening and why.

Farm & Food Care applauds the work that many farmers and agri-food industry stakeholders have already invested into research and adopting new handling practices such as reducing the possible exposure of bees to dust from neonicotinoid treated seed. It is imperative to the viability of Ontario’s farmers who grow crops and associated businesses that any possible decisions to restrict the use of neonicotinoids be based on sound science and credible research. The goal of reducing honey bee deaths is one all farmers can support.

Ontario farmers are the original environmental stewards of the land.  We live and work on our farms and take ecosystem and bee health very seriously. Farm & Food Care encourages anyone that shares farmer concerns about pollinator health to support sound science and research. Understanding to what extent environmental issues impact bee health is important, not only for bees but for the benefit of all ecosystems surrounding agricultural lands.

Farm & Food Care encourages anyone that shares farmer concerns about pollinator health to allow the researchers and experts some more time to continue to investigate this important issue.   Let’s allow them to establish benchmarks and recommendations for changes and actions based on science and data collected here at home in Canada.

Grown-Up Bullying Alive and Well in Ontario as Farmers Get Steamrolled Over Neonics

By: Lyndsey Smith, reprinted with permission

Yesterday, the Ontario premier’s office and the ministry of the environment and climate change revealed its plan to restrict the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments. The goal, referred to as “aspirational,” is to reduce the number of Ontario corn and soybean acres planted with the seed treatment by 80% by the year 2017. The details of the new rules, regulations and certification for using the pesticide will be determined by July of 2015, the province says, following a two month consultation process running through December, 2014, and January, 2015.

You’ll note I didn’t say that the ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs is proposing this plan, even though, yes, technically it is. Want to know why? Because from what I saw yesterday, OMAFRA isn’t the lead on this even a little — premier Kathleen Wynne and her environment minister, Glen Murray, are. And if I were Jeff Leal, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, or an Ontario farmer, I’d be feeling more than a little bullied at this point.

That this isn’t being driven by OMAFRA is a significant point, and speaks to the challenge ahead for farmers. It’s one thing to have to deal with changes and increased regulation stemming from your own ministry — a ministry that should understand and respect the complexity of your industry. It’s another beast to be expected to morph and fall in line with the demands of a ministry that is only handing down demands and not offering up any help on the solutions side. Mix in a bit of blatant ignorance of (or disregard for, I can’t tell which it is) farming and agriculture, and we’ve got ourselves a hot mess.

Farmers are, understandably, upset over the coming regulations. Wynne and Murray are busy patting themselves on the back and reminding voters how great they are, while simultaneously disregarding what it means on the ground for farmers and the environment. How so? Read on.

Access the full article here.

A neonic ban not supported by science, and would make things worse

By Terry DaynardFlower

Some environmental groups have called, in an October 9 Guelph Mercury column, for a ban on use of neonicotinoid insecticides. They support this with dubious information and claims. This column provides an alternative perspective.

Neonic insecticides do kill insects, including bees if not used carefully. In some situations, with certain dust-emitting corn planters, there can be deaths at seeding time in spring. Farmers, seed and equipment suppliers, and governments have moved quickly to reduce this risk. Preliminary statistics from Health Canada indicate springtime bee deaths were down significantly in 2014. Continue reading

Riparian Project Funded by SARFIP aims to help erosion control and clean water

By Lilian Schaer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Susan Chan and Bob Irvine at the pond.

A partnership with a local stewardship organization helped Bob and Gail Irvine leverage habitat development funding from the SARFIP program into a significant wetland development and habitat creation project on their Peterborough-area farm last year.

The story has its beginnings in a project the year before when Irvine, who raises purebred Dorset sheep breeding stock on his 90-acre farm together with his wife Gail, needed a solution for a field that had been wet for many years. With the help of some grant programs, he was able to excavate a pond that improved his field by draining much of the water out of it.

“The eyesore after all these projects in 2012 was the berm around the pond. It was being under-utilized and that’s when we decided we would undertake a pollinator project with plants, shrubs and trees, which develops habitats through creation of a riparian buffer strip,” he explains.

He turned to Sue Chan with Farms at Work, a not for profit project that promotes healthy and active farmland in east central Ontario. She played a key role in bringing the Irvine project to fruition, helping him access additional funds and resources through the members of the Kawartha Farm Stewardship Collaborative, a group of organizations working together to help farmers access technical assistance and stewardship funding.

She also helped secure private donors for some of the plant materials used in the project, as well as growing some herself, and it was Chan who designed the layout for the riparian area around the pond with all the pollinator plants. The total site is approximately three acres in size, which includes the pond in the middle and the buffer strips around it; all the plantings both in and around the pond were chosen for their benefit to pollinators, fish, birds and insects. Blueberries, for example, are great sources of pollen and nectar for bumble bees in early spring, and the fruit can be harvested later in the season.

“We always try to work with models for others to follow so the idea is that this project will become a prototype for other projects in the area in the future,” says Chan, a firm believer in the power of collaboratives to help advance stewardship initiatives.

Irvine is hopeful about the positive impact the project will have, including erosion control and cleaner water as a result of the creation of new habitats in and around the pond, and Chan says the riparian area will definitely benefit the local pollinator population.

“Most of Bob’s property is in pasture and we’ve put in a lot of flowering plants that aren’t typically found in pasture. We’re hoping that we are creating a reservoir of pollinators that can expand their range,” she explains. “Some plants in there, for example, are specialist plants for the specialist pollinators, like Pickerel Weed and a bee that only survives on Pickerel Weed. Others are generalists for all kinds of pollinators.”

“It has become a happy place for our family and grandkids. It has given new life to a marginal area that was just being ignored previously and it has certainly improved the appearance of the berms around the pond. There’s no direct dollar value return to the farmer for doing this but there are other things than dollar signs at the end of the day, like community, health and happiness. Those are all part of being able to sustain a profitable enterprise,” he adds.

SARFIP is a cost-share program delivered by OSCIA and funded by Environment Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The program aims to help farmers adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) to enhance the farm operation, while supporting local species at risk, improving forests, grasslands, wetlands and wildlife.

SARFIP has been renewed for the 2014-2015 cropping season. To be eligible to participate in SARFIP, Ontario farm businesses must have a completed Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and an FBRN or equivalent (see program guide). Candidates can then select eligible BMP categories from the SARFIP list that relate to an action identified in their farm’s EFP Action Plan, including improved stream crossings, erosion control work,
and fencing livestock from sensitive areas.

More information about Farms at Work and the Kawartha Farm Stewardship Collective is available here.

Farm & Food Care talks about bee health

By Crystal Mackay, Executive Director, Farm & Food Care

Questions around bees and why they are dying or not dying are being asked around the world.  In recent years, an unusually high number of bee deaths have occurred in some areas of Europe, Canada and the United States, while other areas have seen bee population growth.  All types of farmers rely on pollinators and are concerned about bee health and the environment.  It’s a complex issue with no easy answers.

Bees pollinate an Ontario fruit orchard in the spring of 2013

Researchers around the world are currently working to determine the cause of the increase in bee deaths in certain regions and why populations are increasing in others. While the EU has announced a moratorium on the specific type of pesticide called neonicotinoids or “neonics” because of a believed connection, the British government has announced that it rejects the science behind the moratorium. In Canada, Health Canada is investigating bee deaths to determine what role, if any, pesticide may have played in the incidents. Continue reading

OFA looking for science-based solutions to bee issue

This Commentary from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture first appeared on September 27, 2013. It is reprinted with permission from the author.

By Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

The recent death of bees in record numbers continues to concern scientists, beekeepers, farmers and regulatory bodies alike. Ontario’s bee population has taken a significant hit over the past few years, a troubling trend since so much of agriculture relies on bees and pollinators. This is an issue of concern for Canadian farmers who rely on the strength of the land, water and soil – and pollinators to keep crops and pastures healthy.

While there is considerable speculation on what exactly is causing bee mortality, no single reason has been identified conclusively. An emerging theory is that the cause of, or a contributor to bee deaths is neonicotinoids, a class of insecticide commonly used in Ontario as seed treatment on corn and soybeans. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) maintains our position on this troubling issue and is calling for sound science-based solutions by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

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Observations about bee deaths in Ontario

Observations about Bee Deaths in Ontario

A rarely heard view from the Field

Guest editorial by:  Craig L. Hunter, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association

Ontario has experienced significant bee deaths in 2012 and 2013. In 2012 the initial premise was there was some relationship to a highly unusual early spring and sudden freeze. However, significant bee deaths were also reported in 2013, a ‘normal’ spring year. Continue reading

A little bit about honey bees

In Canada, there are 7,000 beekeepers keeping 600,000 colonies of honey bees.

Honey bees play a critical role in the production of fruits, vegetables and other crops – they pollinate blossoms on the plants to turn them into fruits (like apples for example) or vegetables (like pumpkins). In fact, it’s estimated that every third bite of food we eat relates back to honeybees and pollination. Canada produces about 75 million pounds of honey every year.

The centre of every beehive is the queen bee, surrounded by a cluster of worker bees tending to her every whim. Many queens in Canada come from Hawaii – travelling to their new home at one to two months of age in a little match-box sized cage with five attendant bees to feed her from a little candy plug at the end of the box that provides nutrition while they’re in transit.

Want to know more about honey bees and apiculture (the science and art of raising bees), heck out this new fact sheet at