By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Bees are a lifeline for farms producing the world’s fruits, vegetables, nuts and other nutrient-rich foods. Bees pollinate billions of dollars’ worth of crops and play an essential role in our food supply. Pollinators are responsible for one in every three bites of food we eat and contribute more than $15 billion to our nation’s crop values each year.
However, bees are in danger from such things as trachael mites, varroa mites, Colony Collapse Disorder, and the use of residential weed killers.
While farmers have been working for years to help create better landscapes for bees and other pollinators; one effort that has been gaining in popularity is the Bee Better Certification program.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation partnered with Oregon Tilth in 2017 to develop and launch the Bee Better Certification program. After piloting the program with just 13 farmers, the effort has broadened to include farmers nationwide.
The program focuses on integrating flower-rich habitat on farms in order to provide food and nesting sites for native bees, honey bees and other pollinators. It also helps farmers reduce or eliminate use of pesticides known to cause harm to bees.
“Bee Better Certified is working with conservation-minded farmers to meet a growing interest from consumers to know how their food choices impact bees,” said Xerces Executive Director Scott Hoffman Black. “Many species of bees have suffered declines over the years, but by creating habitat and reducing pesticide use, Bee Better is generating meaningful change on working farms.”
The Bee Better Certification program certifies the use of pollinator-friendly conservation practices on farms, totaling 20,000 acres of land. After the farmer is Bee Better certified, farmers can use the Bee Better seal on their product packaging, giving consumers the option to support farms that are supporting bees.
The products with the Bee Better label are being used by major retailers including Haagen-Dazs. The ice cream company committed to adopting Bee Better standards for their entire almond supply, adding nearly a half dozen Bee Better Certified ice cream flavors to their menu.
Many of the West Coast’s blueberry and cherry packer giants have also joined the ranks, including CalGiant, Rainier Fruit and Homegrown Organic. Other farms are joining Bee Better, including Villicus Farms, a 10,000-acre organic grain operation in northern Montana. The same can be said of many wine vineyards in Washington, Oregon and California. And the effort is heading east.
The Bee Better Certification program now serves as a model for developing other pollinator certification programs and has spawned a new partnership between the Xerces team and solar energy producers, wind farms, powerline transmission companies, and other investors interested in exploring and conducting farm inspections.
Black adds this effort is a benefit to consumers, companies, retailers and farmers.
“The Bee Better Certified seal tells the consumers that the ingredients were grown in ways that support bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects,” Black said. “The consumers’ purchasing decisions directly benefit farms that prioritize pollinator conservation.
“The Bee Better Certified seal lets consumers know the company values pollinators and supports the farmers that protect them, and in the end this benefits companies and retailers.
“For the farmer, protecting pollinators not only provides a new marketing opportunity, but can also positively impact crop yields and produce quality. This benefits all types of operations, whether conventional or organic, large or small.”
For more information about the Bee Better Certified program contact the Xerces Society for Invertebrate at 503-232-6639.