During this time of year, you might look out your window to see bees and butterflies buzzing around nearby flowers, moving from one plant to the next, pollinating along the way. Many of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy in the summer are a result of the important work these insects do.
What better time to learn more about the role pollinators play in agriculture than during National Pollinator Week?
Here in Illinois, the growing season is in full swing. As you drive by fields of emerging corn and soybeans, take a moment to look for insects flying through fields, helping our farmers produce a strong food supply through pollination.
Pollination occurs when pollen from the male part of a plant is transferred to the female part of the same or a different plant. This movement can take place when pollen attaches to an animal or is carried by wind or water to its destination. Successful pollination results in the fruits, vegetables and nuts that we grow in our gardens or buy at the grocery store.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), pollinators like bees, butterflies, bats and birds are responsible for pollinating more than 75 percent of the nation’s flowering plants and crops. In 2010, pollination by honeybees directly or indirectly contributed to more than $19 billion of crops; pollination by other insects contributed to nearly $10 billion of crops.
With such a high reliance on these creatures for food production, it is no surprise farmers are committed to doing their part to protect pollinators.
Last month, the Illinois Farm Bureau submitted data on behalf of our state’s agriculture sector to the Illinois Monarch Project for the USFWS Monarch Conservation Database. The report detailed efforts made by farmers and others in the Illinois ag sector to protect pollinators like monarch butterflies throughout the state.
The data shows that from 2014 to 2019, more than 850,000 acres in Illinois were registered in the Conservation Reserve Program and more than 100,000 acres were enrolled in the Pollinator Habitat Program (CP-42). An additional 741 acres were also established as pollinator habitat outside of these federal initiatives.
It is thanks to the voluntary efforts of farmers and foresters, in addition to agriculture groups and state agencies, that pollinators remain protected with the habitat they need to support our food system.
Now that you know more about the role pollinators and farmers have in producing the fresh produce you will likely enjoy this summer, you might be asking yourself how you can get involved in protecting pollinators.
The answer? Plant a pollinator garden. If you want to see more monarch butterflies in your area, add milkweed, a vital resource for this species, to your landscape. Create a pollinator-friendly environment by planting blooming annuals like salvia, zinnias and lavender. Try to limit the number of times you mow your lawn during the summer to allow wildflowers time to grow.
Pollinators are an integral part of agriculture and it will take all of us working together to ensure they remain in our fields and gardens for years to come. However you choose to make a difference in supporting bees, butterflies and other pollinators — start today.
Richard Guebert, Jr.
Illinois Farm Bureau president