Dr. Steve Hendrix speaks up for the wild bee

Dr. Steve Hendrix was the keynote speaker at this week’s 34th Bur Oak Land Trust Prairie Preview. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | March 10, 2017

When the general public thinks about bees, one image comes to mind: the honeybee.

If UI Professor Emeritus Steve Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” had a central message, it was that nearly 20,000 other bee species exist and provide often under-recognized ecosystem services.

Hendrix gave the presentation at 34th Bur Oak Land Trust Prairie Preview on Thursday night to a crowd of nearly 300. He said, “All plants need pollinators some of the time, and at least some plants need pollinators all of the time.” Indeed, pollinators provide 225 billion dollars in pollination services. While honeybees receive the majority of public praise, wild bees, which are often small, solitary creatures with short life spans, do 90 percent of the pollinating on U.S. farms. Additionally, according to Hendrix’s research findings, honeybees are less effective pollinators than wild bees.

While the number of bees in the U.S. is declining, one of Hendrix’s studies provided a glimmer of hope for bees in North America. Hendrix and his colleagues compared populations of bees on large prairies with those in smaller, urban gardens and parks. Surprisingly, regardless of the area of land the bees had to roam, there was no difference in bee diversity, species richness, or abundance. The main predictor for healthy bee populations was the presence of a extremely diverse plant life.

Hendrix rounded out his presentation with a look to the future for wild bees. He emphasized once more the importance of the insects, which are largely credited with providing food security for humans. He said, “There’s going to be changes in the distribution of bees.” Due to global warming, many bee species that were previously found in southern states are making their way to Iowa. Hendrix added, “The big bees are going to be the losers in this climate change world we’re living in…it’s going to be the rare bees that are affected most.” Hendrix said that there has been limited research about what this will mean for ecosystems and human health, but encouraged all those in the audience to continue fighting to conserve habitat for bees in Iowa.


Conservation Reserve Program amended to support new farmers

Buffer zones curb soil erosion and help to filter nutrients before they enter waterways. (USDA National Agroforestry Center/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 30, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has modified a national conservation program in order to support beginning farmers.

Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program has paid farmers a yearly rent for removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production. Most contracts last 10-15 years. Previously, if farmers broke the contract early, they were required to return all the rental payments with interest. With the policy change, farmers may now end their contracts early without penalty if they sell or lease the land to a beginning farmer.

Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam announced the policy change, which will take effect January 9th, at the Joe Dunn farm near Carlisle in central Iowa. Dunn’s son-in-law, Aaron White, is a beginning farmer on a small acreage near Carlisle.

White said, “I think the biggest obstacle beginning farmers face is land access. This program would help alleviate some of those problems.” Lanon Baccam agreed, he said giving the next generation of farmers a chance at success makes perfect sense.

Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program is the largest private-land conservation effort in the country. It is unclear how the program’s stated goal of improving water quality, reducing soil erosion and protecting habitat for endangered species will be effected by putting environmentally sensitive land back into production for beginning famers.

More information about the Conservation Reserve Program in Iowa can be found here.

New ‘Environmental Working Group’ database analyzes $30 Billion Spent On U.S. Conservation Programs

Soil erosion is common in Iowa following heavy rains along steep slopes. (Flickr)
Jake Slobe | November 2, 2016

The Enviromental Working Group recently revealed a new database showing the details of  USDA conservation expenditures.

The database allows Americans to see, for the first time, exactly where billions of dollars in conservation funding have gone.

According to the group, even with the $29.8 billion that has been spent on U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation efforts over the past decade, these expenditures are not leading to clean water, clean air and a healthy environment.

Iowa is the leading recipient of USDA conservation funds with more than $4.36 billion since 1995.  However, the states has seen little change in the level of surface water pollution caused by nitrates, bacteria, algae and sediment.

Most USDA conservation payments go to landowners and farmers who convert cropland to grassland for a specified length of time under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

The USDA says CRP has kept pollutants out of the water, reduced soil erosion, and provided valuable wildlife habitat.

The Environmental Working Group stated in its report that landowners between 2007 and 2014 withdrew 15.8 million acres from CRP in response to high crop prices.

The Environmental Working Group database shows that counties in the Raccoon River watershed have a lower participation in CRP and that the majority of CRP payments go to residents within counties that are not mission critical for the state’s highest environmental priority — reducing nutrient pollution in the waters of Iowa and farther downstream.





Iowa CRP Adds 47,300 Acres

Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Services – Midwest Region; Flickr

With this new addition, Iowa’s Conservation Reserve Program enrollment is now up to 1.4 million acres.

The CRP is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.

Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.

To learn more about the recent addition, follow this link.

Conservation Reserve Program in Iowa

Tom Vilsack announcing adding 400,000 acres to the CRP. Photo by USDAgov, Flickr.
Tom Vilsack announcing adding 400,000 acres to the CRP. Photo by USDAgov, Flickr.

Iowa Public Radio details the efforts of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in Iowa.

The CRP is a program where farmers receive money to keep portions of their land out of production. This reduces runoff, prevents erosion and creates more habitats for migrating birds.

Read about CRP and its future here.

Conservation Reserve Program offers incentives to protect erodible farmland

Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, Flickr

In order to maintain the current amount of erodible farmland in our country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering financial incentives for farmers who enroll their grasslands and wetlands into the Conservation Reserve Program.

Up to 1 million acres will be enrolled in order to maintain the current level of erodible farmland in our country (30 million acres).

In addition to reducing erosion and farm runoff, this effort will create new habitats for wildlife.

The Washington Post reports:

Grasslands enrollment increases by 700,000 acres, including land for duck nesting and upland bird habitat. The program also establishes 100,000 new acres to be set aside for pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

With similar past programs from the Conservation Reserve Program, the land enrolled typically comes from the least productive part of the farm.