Complicated thoughts about pastures and pollinators
Understanding the economic role of pollinators is the first step toward understanding their diverse values to grassland and crop systems, explained Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension range field specialist.
"I encourage landowners to consider the role pollinators play when developing a pasture or CRP weed management plan," he said.
The term 'pollinators' Bauman said, typically refers to the suite of plants that produce nectar and pollen (generally flowering broadleaf plants) and the insects and other animals (birds, bats, etc.) that spread the pollen for plant reproduction.
"In the last several years, the honey bee has been at the center of the pollinator discussion, as their populations have crashed - placing bee keepers and their fruit and nut producing clientele at risk," he said. "I remind folks that along with honey bee decline has come the dramatic decline of local butterfly species, including the iconic monarch butterfly."
Pollinator's survival depends on what we plant
Much of our success in food production can be attributed to technological advances. "For instance the advent of chemicals for weed control has made farming quite different than it was decades ago. Along with the cropland chemicals, advancements in chemicals formulated for broadleaf plant control in pastures also continues to develop. These chemistries can be a great tool, but they can also be detrimental," Bauman said.
He explained that as with any tool, the tool itself cannot be heralded or demonized - it is the appropriate application of the tool that creates successes and failures.
With this in mind, Bauman said there are many factors that play a role in the overall decline of pollinators. "Use of herbicides and insecticides in crop production and conversion of native grasslands to farming are viewed as major contributors," he said. "However, we cannot overlook the critical responsibilities of pasture managers in this discussion."
On one hand, Bauman explained, if it were not for our remaining native pastures many of our pollinator species would be in worse peril than they currently are.
"Our ranchers should be applauded for their efforts in protecting grasslands," he said. "But in fairness, if it were not for current pasture management philosophy, many of our native broadleaf pollinator species would be more abundant than they are, and pasture managers should seriously consider their responsibilities in that regard."
Producers often look at pastures through the same lens that they view cropland. A common desire is to want the pastures 'cleaned up.' Simply stated, Bauman said this means removal or control of anything perceived to be unpalatable to cattle or any species simply not recognized as contributing to the pasture ecosystem.