Making room for pollinators need not harm farm productivity

Farmers attending two recent Campaign for the Farmed Environment events heard from experts that supporting pollinators and crop pest predators can help improve crop yields, delivering a win-win for farming and wildlife.

The two events, held in Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire, were in partnership with Kings and Syngenta. Speakers shared their research as well as guidance on managing margins for pollinators.

At the Hertfordshire event, Professor Richard Pywell (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) spoke; while Dr Jonathan Storkey (Rothamsted Research) presented in Gloucestershire.

The invited experts shared their findings from a six-year, large-scale study on a commercial arable farm with field beans, oilseed rape and wheat. Improved pollination combined with natural pest control led to increased crop yields, especially in field beans which saw a 35% increase. With improved yields overall, farm output was largely unaffected by taking 3% to 8% of land at field edges out of production to create habitats for beneficials.  This will encourage farmers looking to increase crop yields while minimising their environmental impact.

Hertfordshire host farmer Robert Law said: “It’s all about having the right habitat, in the right quantity, in the right place. You don’t need a lot to make a difference.”

CFE supports Bees’ Needs Week (17-23 July) which raises awareness of the ways everyone can help pollinators and celebrates successful pollinator projects across the country. Some 1,500 species of insects pollinate UK crops, contributing an estimated £600m to the nation’s economy.

CFE project officer Anna Cuckow said: “Many farmers are taking steps to provide food and a home for pollinators. Since 2014, over 1,750 farmers have benefitted from the practical guidance offered by CFE co-ordinators at more than 90 farm walks. In addition, as a result of two discounted seed mixes from Kings and Syngenta, 1,500ha of flowers providing pollen and nectar have been sown, enhancing the biodiversity of over 50,000ha of farmland. Sowing mixes on the least productive, awkward field corners which occur on nearly every farm helps both bees and farm productivity.”

Ways to help pollinators include: looking after existing flower-rich areas, pollen and nectar mixes or grass leys with legumes and wildflowers, cutting hedges once every three years to allow flowering and planting hedge gaps with flowering native shrubs.  Tussocky grass and grass buffers also provide essential overwintering habitats for some bee species. These are measures every farmer can adopt voluntarily, outside or alongside a stewardship agreement, whilst farming productively.

 

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.