Inspecting the Operation Pollinator field on Mike Sturdivantrsquos Leflore County Miss farm are Delta FARMrsquos Tim Huggins and Trey Cooke and Syngentarsquos Caydee Savinelli

Inspecting the Operation Pollinator field on Mike Sturdivant’s Leflore County, Miss., farm are Delta F.A.R.M.’s Tim Huggins and Trey Cooke and Syngenta’s Caydee Savinelli.

Helping bees helps farm's bottom line

Mississippi Delta farmers are partnering with Delta F.A.R.M. and Syngenta to plant wildflowers and other pollinator-attracting plants adjacent to row crop fields. The program, Operation Pollinator, is proving that pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, and farmers can beneficially coexist.

Butterfly Operation Pollinator Mississippi Delta farm
A butterfly takes advantage of the Coahoma County, Miss., Operation Pollinator site. (Click to enlarge)

“This is an important program, and I want to be part of the solution as we try to figure out how not to lose any of the pesticides we need to farm successfully,” says Leflore County, Miss., producer Mike Sturdivant.

Farming and positive environmental management can coexist, according to Delta farmers enrolled in the program. Through Operation Pollinator, Sturdivant says, “I’d like to see that we, in the Mississippi Delta, are not a problem for the bees or for that industry, and by implementing pollinator-friendly practices, we can live together and work together and not lose the insecticides and pesticides we need down the road to protect our farming operations.”

Adds Coahoma County, Miss., producer Scott Flowers, “As producers, we have a responsibility to try to help out anyway we can, and I only see positives with this program.”

Syngenta, which developed Operation Pollinator more than 12 years ago, is sponsoring the program, along with local and regional partners such as Delta F.A.R.M. “Operation Pollinator is an international biodiversity program to boost the number of pollinating insects on commercial farms,” says Caydee Savinelli, pollinator and IPM stewardship lead for Syngenta. “It works by creating specific habitats, tailored to local conditions and pollinators and other beneficial insects.”

Farmers participating in the program are provided with seed and technical assistance and production advice from Delta F.A.R.M., and in turn, they agree to dedicate a field or field border to the wild flower mixture.

While solitary bees are well-known native pollinators, bats, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds also are pollinators. Delta F.A.R.M. assists in implementing the program and managing the newly planted habitats to attract the highest quality pollinator populations.

Perennials and annuals

“We use a mixture of perennial and annual flowers chosen specifically for our area with input from NRCS biologists,” says Tim Huggins, natural resource specialist with Delta F.A.R.M. “The mix includes 13 different species, with the highest concentrations being coreopsis, purple coneflower and Partridge pea. The species composition is selected to provide varying bloom times to provide forage from early spring to first frost.”

The pollinator sites are either planted at a rate of 10.5 pounds per acre using a grain drill with a small seed box, or broadcast at a rate of 12 to 15 pounds per acre onto a prepared seedbed and then lightly covered.

Operation Pollinator Plains Coreopsis.
Bringing a beautiful red color to the Operation Pollinator plots is the Plains Coreopsis. (Click to enlarge)

Weed control is the biggest obstacle to maintaining a good stand of pollinator-attracting wildflowers. To improve stands, the acreage to be planted received a preplant herbicide burndown. After planting, weedy grasses are controlled using grass-specific herbicides.

In the fall, the plants are mowed to height of 4 to 6 inches to disperse the flower seeds produced during the growing season. The following spring, it is important to closely monitor the plots and quickly remove any unwanted plants either by spot spraying or mechanical means.

In addition to attracting pollinators, the aim of these wildflower plots is to help reverse the loss of pollinator habitats. In addition, Operation Pollinator may also help create habitats that previously did not exist in this region.

That’s true for Flowers’ Coahoma County farm. The Operation Pollinator acreage on his farm was formerly an old house site. “It wasn’t a big sacrifice on our part to find a piece of ground that wasn’t in production, and this provides us with an avenue to help learn more about pollinator issues. Anything I can do to help wildlife, I’m all for,” he says.

According to Savinelli, “Numbers of pollinating insects have declined in recent years. The decline has been linked to habitat loss, diseases, changes in agriculture practices and urban sprawl, among other factors.”

Research by Syngenta has found by independent monitoring that habitat creation for pollinators has been proven to increase bumblebee numbers by up to 600 percent, butterfly numbers up 12-fold and other insects more than 10-fold within three years.

For more information about enrolling in Operation Pollinator, contact Trey Cooke of Delta F.A.R.M. at (662) 686-3350.

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