Kansas pollinator conference examines impact of climate change, regenerative farming and more on bees
Conference examines the ups and downs of raising bees
There are all types of livestock, from those with four legs to those underground to ones with wings. Sarah Red-Laird, the executive director of Bee Girl, a nonprofit organization based in Oregon, gave the keynote address during the virtual Pollinators on the Plains conference.
The virtual event, hosted by The Kansas Rural Center on Feb. 5, covered a range of pollinator topics, including beekeeping methods and strategies, regional pollinator-based community initiatives, the intersection of pollinators with farming and ranching and the impact of pesticides on pollinators.
Red-Laird, who is also Northwest Farmers Union president, spoke of utilizing regenerative practices in her beekeeping operation and the intersection between bees and grazing lands.
By using regenerative principles, Red-Laird said, “We get very, very happy bees.”
Red-Laird is a beekeeper, university-trained bee researcher and pollinator conservationist. Ever since she was a young girl, she has interacted with bees — calling them the "love of her life."
While she was at the University of Montana, Red-Laird helped train bees to sniff out landmines. What troubles this bee enthusiast and most of the speakers at the conference, is the disappearance of many bees.
“It’s harder and harder for beekeepers to keep their bees,” Red-Laird said. “The problem with our bees is parasites and disease, pesticides, climate change and nutrition.”
She also explained how much of our rural landscape is disappearing, making it harder for these industrial insects to survive.
Simply having a strip of pollinator flowers, weeds or trees beside the road, Red-Laird said, would help these insects flourish. In addition, she spoke of the importance of sunflowers and how their pollen is good for these little creatures, as is diverse cover cropping. But most of all she said, we must eliminate chemicals.
Harmful chemicals and endangered bees
Daniel Raichel, staff attorney at the National Resources Defense Council Pollinator Initiative, explained to the group about the harmful effects of neonicotinoid on pollinators.
“U.S. beekeepers report losing about 40% of their (colonies) each year," Raichel said. "Four thousand species are native to the U.S.; all of these bees are critical to the functioning of these ecosystems.”
According to Raichel, the Rusty-patched bumblebee is the first bee on the endangered species list.
Not only do pollinators pollinate more than 70% of the world's food, but they also help make it beautiful by pollinating flowers as well.
“They provide a tremendous amount of free crop services,” Raichel said.
But a chemical was introduced into the environment a few decades ago that is decimating this buzzing worker bee — neonicotinoid or neonics for short.
"Neonics kill bees,” Raichel said.
Because of the substance's harmful tendencies, both the European Union and France have placed numerous bans on the insecticide. Connecticut, Maryland and Vermont have also placed bans on the chemical.
Not only does this chemical harm pollinators, it ends up in water streams.
According to Raichel, neonics do not do too much good for killing invasive pests. He said lawn care services and farmers need to find ways of growing food that harness the natural powers of nature to address pest problems.
It’s buzzing in both Manhattan and Kansas City
Both Manhattan and Kansas City, Missouri, have instituted pollinator gardens throughout their respective cities. The pollinator parks — or pockets — in Manhattan are city-run, while the ones in Kansas City are run by a private organization.
“We want to increase pollinator species, decrease invasive species and increase ecological awareness,” said Alfonso Leyva, the park planner for Manhattan.
Leyva, who is also on the board of Kansas Wildlife, hopes to expand pollinator gardens throughout his region.
Healthy bees need healthy land
According to California-trained beekeeper Jorge Garibay, the founder of North American Pollinator Alliance, bees flourish when they are given proper housing and nutrition. And that nutrition, he said, does not include sugar water.
As for proper housing, Garibay uses a special bee house model, designed by Leo Sharashkin. These off-the-ground, insulated houses prevent diseases and help the insects thrive during both summer and winter.
Sharashkin raises bees on his private 600-acre honeybee sanctuary in Missouri. Along with being the editor of “Keeping Bees with a Smile,” he is the founder of Horizontal Hive.
“You can keep bees naturally," Sharashkin said. "It's very beneficial for bees to have honey above them (instead of) ... on the side."
Bees nest at one end of the box and store honey at the other end of the box.
"This makes much more peaceful bees," Sharashkin said. "If you do not disturb them, they are much more peaceful."
Both Garibay and Sharashkin understand the need for proper habitat and care of the little buzzing creatures. Neither beekeeper disturbs their insects during the summer. They also leave their bees with plenty of their own food to consume through winter.
Garibay said the bee industry is overcrowding the insect and not giving them a variety of foods to eat.
“Supplemental feeding is wrong,” he said. "If it's not good for humans, why would you want to put it in a beehive? Sugar syrup is not honey."
Although agriculture is an interruption to the bee’s natural habitat, if the land is treated naturally or regeneratively, the bees can thrive.
"We need to understand that bees are not dying off in this country, nor in the rest of the world, but they are running out of habitat," Garibay said. "We need to provide habitat. We need to plant annuals and perennials, and we need to be planting trees for the century.”
KRC will host Local Food Systems & Farm to School in May and Soil Health to Human Health during the summer. Garibay can be reached at email@example.com.