At Merge Impact, we use a variety of indicators to assess environmental footprint. Empowered by EISP, MINT, and a myriad of soil health measurements, consumers, farmers and companies can lead the way toward a climate-positive food future.
Another key indicator of agricultural sustainability is the health of our pollinators – essential players at the core of food production. In honor of Pollinator Week, Merge Impact highlights the importance of biodiversity to regenerative agriculture and the ongoing work to protect bee populations around the world.
[Healthy Bees for a Healthy World]*
In late May, members of the Merge Impact team visited the University of Minnesota Bee Lab to learn more about biodiversity and pollinator preservation. Akin to entrepreneurial innovation, farm managers must test and adapt land use to meaningfully support local bee colonies.
In the past, the Bee Lab has tested specific pollinator plantings, hedgerows, habitat strips, fire prevention, brush control, and deer protection—often falling short of expected results. After years of patience, the Lab discovered that large blocks of perennial habitat with indefinite boundaries yield the most success. Staff continue exploring and working the land to find the best way to encourage pollination.
Pollinator diversity is essential to the health of the environment and the entire food system. Honeybees are a keystone species in most significant western ecosystems, fertilizing 80% of all flowering plants and serving as food for birds, lizards and other arthropods. Forming the base of the food chain and comprising 90% of the planet’s biodiversity, invertebrates like the honey bee are essential to the food economy. In fact, their role in crop growth saves the U.S. agriculture industry an estimated $1.5 billion every year.
A stable and varied bee population is important to crop diversity. Roughly 20-45% of North American bees are specialists, meaning they use pollen from only one species or genus of plants. When a specialist bee goes extinct, the reproduction of related crops is compromised.
In recent years, widespread pesticide use in farming and increasing temperatures due to climate change have led to a 57% decrease in western North American bumble bee populations, based on a recent U.S. Geological Survey-led study. Decline is most common where temperature and precipitation exceed historical conditions, showing how global warming creates additional pressure for bee populations.
Just as humans rely on pollination, bees depend on regenerative practices to avoid extinction. Conservation agriculture can protect entire ecosystems from collapse and ensure food security nationwide. Pollinator biodiversity is essential to farming, communities, and the environment, and should not be overlooked.
Sustainable producers should manage their farms with pollinators in mind. Adding native vegetation, nesting material, and protection from pesticides into farm planning are just some ways to help bees thrive. Beyond biodiversity and pollination services, farms with a rich insect population also benefit from natural pest control, increased carbon sequestration, healthier soil, and improved water quality. When laying out an acreage, leveraging the native elements of the terrain (dubbed the landscape approach) can further support pollinators. Organizations such as the Xerces Society and the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) provide a plethora of resources for growers and consumers alike.
Throughout this process, trust between conservationists and farmers can be difficult to maintain. Confidence can be slow to build when one party is enforcing regulations on another’s private land. Clear communication of policy, emphasis on collaboration and mutual goals, and ongoing community education are some ways to help ease the transition for all parties involved.
Merge Impact measures biodiversity
Government, researchers, businesses, and private individuals are all intertwined in the fight for pollinator revival. Merge’s new Biodiversity and Ecosystem Evaluation (BEE) will allow farmers who prioritize this goal to connect with interested buyers and make the most of their biodiverse practices.
Using a variety of indicators, including crop diversity, avian and invertebrate species proliferation, and regulating services, Merge can quantify biodiversity on farm landscapes associated with field boundaries in the Merge database. Monitoring the presence and spread of native species over time can help determine whether they are persisting, disappearing, or thriving. By standardizing a measure for biodiversity, Merge informs farm management actions and helps clients better understand how to support pollinator health in the agriculture sector.
Written by, Aileen Dosev, Intern at Merge Impact