Corn is wind pollinated and does not benefit from insect pollination so why the heck do corn farmers care about bees? Well, few farmers grow only one crop and bees play a critical role in 80 percent of flowering crops. Even bigger picture, bees are a critical part of thriving ecosystems, including those found across the Corn Belt.
That’s why more and more farmers are keeping pollinators in mind as they manage their fields each year and make longer term plans for their operation, according to Nicole Hasheider, NCGA’s director of biotechnology and crop inputs. NCGA is doing its part to help by partnering with the Honey Bee Health Coalition and through the introduction of a new resource on pollinator protection.
Bees can cover up to 3,200 acres as they travel looking for nectar and pollen, which means the odds are high they are eventually going to end up hanging out in a cornfield. Corn pollen, while of low nutritional value to honey bees, can still be an important component of pollinator diets.
In fact, a diverse array of pollinators are found within cornfields. This is especially true in areas where corn makes up a high proportion of the landscape and other sources of bee forage are limited. Pollinators, including 36 different species of bees were found within Iowa cornfields in a recent study. A Michigan study that sampled 10 fields within a single season found 42 species of bees in corn.
Both managed (e.g., honey bees) and native bees face a variety of environmental conditions that can have a negative impact on their populations, including a loss of habitat or poor availability of nutritious forage, parasites, diseases and exposure to pesticides. The good news is a little extra planning by farmers can help bees a lot. Key things to include:
- Maintain open lines of communication with nearby beekeepers and local beekeeping associations
- Take steps to reduce or avoid pesticide drift
- Use insecticides and other pesticides judiciously, based on locally established recommendations and pest pressure
- Choose insecticides and other pesticides that selectively target the pest of concern
- Whenever possible, delay pesticide applications until honey bees and other pollinators cease foraging for the day (typically early evening, e.g. 6:00-7:00 PM)