The case for converting some farmland to bee habitat

Although farmers know that bees are essential pollinators for many crops, they usually don’t dedicate parts of their valuable planting space to create a habitat just for bees. But according to new research, farmers should really consider sharing their land with these pollinating insects.

In the fields of California’s Central Valley, researchers analyzed crop values, land ownership patterns, and bee ecology to determine the benefits of creating bee habitats for landowners.

The researchers found that in Yolo County, for instance, crops like berries and nuts that are dependent upon bees for pollination are worth thousands of dollars per acre. That means every inch of land is valuable. This motivated the researchers to ask the question: “Under what circumstances is it worth it for a farmer to invest in habitat for wild bees?”

Creating a habitat for wild bees on farms doesn’t have to be a large undertaking. Landowners can simply let a small bit of land stay wild amid the crops so bees can find a familiar haven among the plants. It can be difficult for farmers to find the incentive of giving up valuable planting land in exchange for wild habitat, but the researchers’ stats make a pretty convincing case.

They found that if 40 percent of landowners were to provide space for wild bee habitat, those landowners would lose $1 million dollars themselves, but generate nearly $2.5 million for their neighbors.

While that doesn’t sound like a great deal, the research shows that there is value in converting farmland into bee habitat—and if we can quantify that value, then landowners can work together to make sure some farmers supply wild bees to others that need them.

For instance, it might not make sense for someone with very valuable crops to convert a part of their farmland into bee habitat, but if they could pay their neighbor to do so on their farm, then it could benefit both parties.

The study, which was published in the journal People and Nature, provides a road map for how farms can identify opportunities for cooperative management of bee habitat. 

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