Protecting Bees and Butterflies to Promote Pollination on our Farm - Food Dialogues

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Protecting Bees and Butterflies to Promote Pollination on our Farm


We established 16 acres of pollinator habitat on my farm this year planting 3-5 acre plots of prescribed perennial grasses and wild flowers within 6 different fields as part of our Conservation Stewardship plan.  My husband and I are pretty proud of this: One of our neighbors, not so much and that’s concerning to us.

Being good neighbors is nearly as important to us as getting a good stand of corn (soybeans are a little more forgiving).  Many of our fields have rural homes nearby so we try to culture friendly relationships. We’ve planted acres of trees and prairie grass, duck scrapes and wildlife food plots. We’ve gone out of our way to welcome hunters, 4-wheelers, horseback riders, dog walkers, kite flyers, snowmobilers and all sorts of nature lovers to our property when it doesn’t interfere with our crops. We plant a sweet corn plot every year that we share with friends, neighbors, FFAs, church groups and two local food pantries. We even give away our stones!

One fall I treated a dozen neighbors to Culvers’ gift certificates as an apology for all the loose corn leaves and stems that blew off our field and into their yards. Even so, we constantly face bags of garbage and unwanted furniture discarded by others in our fields, drivers taking ‘short cuts’ and all sorts of people thinking our fields are their dumping grounds for lawn and tree trimmings, unwanted houseplants and garden produce.

It is the latest complaint that has me in disbelief.  These particular neighbors – a retired coupled – spent the last five years planting every kind of decorative flower and bush they could find. One of their flower bed’s sits directly on top of our shared property line and there lies the problem. Because most of this was a rocky knoll, we’ve let it grow wildflowers and clover, always careful to control thistles. Still, he started mowing our land behind his flower bed. I kindly asked him to stop, explaining that was establishing pollinator habitat. He continued to mow a strip behind his flower bed then systematically hand clipped patches of milkweed I’d deliberately left for the Monarch butterflies!

This spring I asked that he not mow over the property line because of our pollinator habitat, to which he responded, “Will there be weeds?”

“That depends on what you consider a weed. A weed is nothing more than a plant out of place,” I replied perhaps a little too glibly. “We will have a variety of perennial wild flowers and grasses to attract pollinators.” He didn’t appreciate the agronomy lesson!

“Whatever” came his response before turning and re-started his riding mower.  A few days later, I ran into him and his wife at the local farm supply store and not only did they ignore my greeting, they wouldn’t even make eye contact despite passing directly in front of me and haven’t acknowledged me or my husband since. Not a wave, not a glance.

I guess all that media attention on bees, butterflies and lost habitat doesn’t penetrate as widely as I’ve assumed. Then again, he proudly told me last year that his son was getting into farming organically so surely they’d have talked about pollinators?!

Good news is they’ve stopped mowing the area. And, as a bonus we have their daisies spreading across our field. Now if only they’d remove that 5-year-old pile of grass clippings and tree trimming from our side of the border.

Perhaps we’ll have to build a good fence.

Nancy Kavazanjian farms in the Beaver Dam, Wis., area, where the emphasis is on building better soils to sustainably grow corn, soybeans and wheat. She currently serves as a farmer-director on the United Soybean Board’s Strategic Marketing Committee, helping direct the nation’s soybean checkoff and is Chairwoman of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.