By Hometown Pride Community Coach, Doug Elam
Farming at the best of times is still a challenge! My dad grew up on a horse-powered family farm and he taught me to respect farming and nature. All my life I have done my best to live this credo, keeping the balance between the needs of people and those of nature. Dad tells me about clearing weeds in the corn with a horse-drawn cultivator until the corn was so high you couldn’t see the horse anymore. Small family farms, hedgerows, minimal use of chemicals and diverse crops all helped maintain the equilibrium of man and nature working together.
We still need to feed the world, but over the years keeping the balance becomes an ever-increasing challenge. One of my grandfather’s favorite sayings was, “If a little bit is good, a whole lot must be better!” This was certainly true with him and other farmers in their use of DDT and other chemicals. There was no malicious intent here, they were just doing the best they could and what was recommended at the time. But the spraying of pesticides and the loss of habitat with larger farms has wreaked havoc on the pollinator populations, most notably bees and butterflies.
While most of the grains are pollinated by the wind, many fruits and vegetables rely heavily on insects. According to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach there are some 30,000 bee colonies in Iowa that pollinate around $92 million in crops annually and produce over 3 million pounds of honey. As you can see, bees are a key player in a healthy agroecosystem.
But it’s not just the agriculture industry that has led to this collapse in bee populations. Expansive suburban development after WWII with the requisite neatly kept lawns shares the blame. Overuse of chemicals is rampant here as well, since most homeowners see dandelions, creeping Charlie, violets and clover as weeds to be obliterated accordingly. Unfortunately, those are often the first foods that bees feed on in the spring.
The Monarch Butterfly has also been adversely affected by these practices with the population declining by 95% since 1990. Chip Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch explains, “Monarch butterfly populations are declining due to loss of habitat. To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds need to become a national priority.” Monarch Watch promotes Monarch Waystations, places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration with milkweed and native flowers.
And it wasn’t just bees and butterflies impacted by the change in farming practices and lawn care. The bald eagle was also a victim of our over-exuberance. It’s good to see these majestic bird populations on the rise because of increased awareness and changes in our behavior. We can do the same for our pollinators.
Everyone everywhere can be part of the solution! The agriculture industry has already started to change to become more pollinator-friendly. Homeowners can save time and money by putting some of the lawn into prairie or pollinator gardens. You can plant milkweed and native flowers in a pot on your porch if you don’t have a yard. Every little bit will help. We can continue to feed the world while being good stewards of this earth. And the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone, there are people who want to help you. Those listed below can provide direct support or local referrals.
Iowa DOT – https://iowadot.gov/lrtf/home
ISU Extension – https://monarch.ent.iastate.edu
Monarch Research Project – http://monarchzones.org
Monarch Watch – https://monarchwatch.org
Pheasants Forever – http://pheasantsforever.org/Habitat/findBiologist.aspx
Trees Forever – http://www.treesforever.org