MILLSBORO, Del. — The Delmarva Poultry Industry has expanded its vegetative buffer program to help farmers plant wildflowers and other plants designed to attract pollinators like bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Several dozen farmers attended a “lunch and learn” workshop on June 6 at the Hammond Farm. The farm owners have planted a large strip of pollinator plants in front of their poultry houses, a planting which experts say can have all the benefits of any other buffer.
It can reduce dust, noise and feathers, serve as a windbreak, and offer an attractive vista which makes the farm look more appealing to neighbors. Those aesthetics may not pay the bills, but when farms everywhere are getting bad publicity, experts say that a little beautification can go a long way toward easing tensions with neighbors.
In addition, pollinator species like purple coneflowers, cardinal flower, milkweed and joe pye weed can attract important pollinators like bees and butterflies while reducing hours of tedious mowing, leaving farmers time for other jobs. The decline of many of those important pollinator species has been a source of great environmental concern in recent years.
DPI received a small grant to start the pollinator program and the idea has really taken off, according to Jim Passwaters, DPI’s vegetative buffers coordinator.
“It was very popular,” he said.
The session was conducted by DPI with Sunrise Solar, which partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Service and the University of Maryland Extension.
Passwaters told the farmers that pollinator species have been in decline in part because of a loss of habitat.
“Instead of growing habitat, we’re growing houses,” he said.
Pollinator species include wildflowers, but can also include shrubs and trees. For example, several farmers have suggested that the plantings include basswood trees because bees love them. Passwaters said he has been contacted by several farmers who also keep beehives.
A June 20, 2014, fact sheet released by the White House said “Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators — including honeybees, native bees, birds, bats and butterflies — from the environment. The problem is serious and poses a significant challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impacts on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.
“Insect pollination is integral to food security in the United States. Honeybees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America. Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops evaluated are dependent on animal pollinators, contributing 35% of global food production.
“Pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the United States economy, of which honey bees account for more than $15 billion through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets.”
Passwaters and DPI began the vegetative buffer program several years ago and have been adjusting it ever since. It now includes trees and grasses as well as a few experimental efforts with food crops like aronia or other berries in an effort to provide an additional income source for farmers.
The pollinator strips are environmentally friendly, but one of the biggest reasons for the program is to cut down on the endless hours of mowing which grass strips require.
Passwaters said the pollinator species are low maintenance and seem to thrive on neglect. They can appear a bit unkempt (especially this year with recent constant rain), which some find a little distasteful.
“It’s not for everybody because a wildflower meadow looks wild,” he said.
For those who prefer a more well-manicured look, Passwaters said low-growing plants like clover could work nicely.
He said three farmers approached DPI at the annual booster banquet after seeing pictures of wildflowers and asked “why can’t my farm look like this?”
“Well, it can,” he said. “There’s been an explosion of interest on the farms.”
Cost share funding for planting pollinator strips is available though NRCS in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, he said.
Other species include marsh marigolds, native sunflowers, black-eyed susans and seaside goldenrod, which is important as a late season food for migrating monarch butterflies.
“Most of this stuff, I used to just kill with Roundup,” Passwaters said with a smile.
Times and attitudes have changed a bit.
“Most farmers are also conservationists, plus it just looks kind of nice,” he said.
For more information on the vegetative buffer or the pollinator program, visit the DPI website at dpichicken.org.