Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Innovative program targets native bee habitat

A growing global biodiversity program comes to Western Canada.

Posted: May 2, 2017

Operation Pollinator site

Operation Pollinator is a program focused on research and partnerships to enhance biodiversity and promote the health and well-being of bees and other pollinators that play an important role in both agriculture and our broader ecosystem.

Originating in the United Kingdom with global agricultural company Syngenta, the program operates in several countries around the world. It includes both on-farm and off-farm components, including areas such as golf courses.

One component of the Canadian on-farm program is focused on Western Canada, where Syngenta Canada and the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) have teamed up to work with Prairie farmers to establish Operation Pollinator sites on farms.

Farmer participants will convert one-to-two acres of land to a dedicated Operation Pollinator site. They'll receive support to help offset establishment and site maintenance. "The goal is to maintain this new pollinator habitat over the long term to maximize the benefits for bees, the broader Prairie landscape, and farmers," says Dr. Paul Hoekstra, senior stewardship and policy manager at Syngenta, and program lead in Canada.

Paul Hoekstra, Senior Stewardship and Policy Manager, Syngenta Canada

Partners, seed mix

"We are working in partnership with others to expand our reach and enhance the landscape," says Hoekstra. "This program can make an important contribution to the abundance and diversity of pollinators found on-farm and we are excited to be working with SCCC to bring it to Western Canada."

Syngenta is a leading agriculture company operating in over 90 countries. In 2013, the company launched The Good Growth Plan, a commitment to sustainable agriculture, focused on rescuing land from degradation, enhancing biodiversity and revitalizing rural communities and which Operation Pollinator is well-aligned with.

The SCCC is an independent, farmer-based, national, non-profit organization with a mission to promote the conservation and enrichment of Canada's soils and related resources. The SCCC and its provincial partners advocate for soil conservation and soil health while delivering programs related to best management practices.

The SCCC is collaborating with three provincial partners to support delivery of Operation Pollinator in Western Canada: the Agriculture Research and Extension Council of Alberta, the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association and the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association.

The pollinator-friendly wildflower mix provided to participants includes native species selected to fit the Canadian environment and is comprised of high-quality, commercial seed that provides a succession of flowering plants to produce an ongoing source of pollen and nectar for pollinators.

Opportunities to learn

A secondary benefit of the program is to improve understanding of how land management models focused on the creation of pollinator-friendly habitats impact biodiversity and soil health.

Sites can take a few years to fully establish themselves as a sustainable, ongoing pollinator habitat, says Hoekstra.

"We are continually learning from these experiences, in terms of what works and, equally importantly, what doesn't work.

"At the end of the day it's important that the participating farmers see value in the use of their land in this way and how it complements and contributes to the rest of their farm operation."

Collaboration, building trust

"What this program showcases is how we can work together to take positive steps and make meaningful contributions," he says. "I'm proud we have been able to engage with a variety of stakeholders, from farmers and academics, to farm organizations and conservation groups, in support of the health of bees and other pollinators.

More information

Producers and others interested in Operation Pollinator can get more information on the program and how to get involved at the SCCC website www.soilcc.ca.

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Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.