Honey bees are extremely proficient in pollinating our plants and are often intentionally used throughout agriculture to produce higher yields of fruits and vegetables to support the growing population. Almond farmers will pay to have bees imported into their orchards during the almond bloom from all over the U.S. Needless to say, bees are important and we have to keep a close eye on their health as well as how we impact their environment. Monoculture has been exposed as a contributor to the declining health in honey bees for a number of reasons.
What is Monoculture? It is defined as a field composed of a single type of crop or crop species – this is done in very large scales throughout the U.S. Farmers have switched to this method with the intention of maximizing profit. The theory behind monoculture is that it reduces the cost of production by reducing the number of machines used in the cultivation and harvesting of the crop, among many other benefits. As the cost of farming goes up and the profits go down, an evaluation of monoculture has been tackled from two perspectives – is it really more profitable and what impact does it have on the environment?
Before I evaluate the alternatives, let’s talk about what the effects of monoculture are on honey bees.
It leads to nutrition deficiency
Monoculture advocates for only one type of crop species. This means that there is only one type of pollen available as a food source for the bees. This will lead to nutrition deficiency in a colony and poor health. It is similar to human beings eating only a single food group.
Limited bloom time
Most crops planted in a monoculture type of farming have shorter bloom times. This means that nectar and pollen are only available during that short bloom time. The bees are then forced to either starve or look for food elsewhere. This is not good in beekeeping as the bees might migrate to where the food source is.
Lack of food for pollinators in monoculture
Some crops planted in monoculture farms, for example, wheat and corn do not provide pollen or nectar for the bees or other native pollinators. This means that they may die of starvation in these areas from the lack of food or be forced to move to other areas where they can find food.
Monoculture leads to poor immune systems in bees
Bees feed on pollen from different plants and this makes them healthier and enables them to have strong immune systems. When bees only feed on pollen and nectar from a single food crop in a monoculture agricultural setting, they are denied the vital nutrients that enable them to fight fungal and bacterial infections that are known to kill a lot of bees.
After listening to experts such as Jeffrey Pettis, Pheasants Forever researches, and many others at the North American Beekeeping Conference, I realized that what appears to be a common sense approach to agriculture and farming isn’t talked about nearly enough.
We should really encourage a more holistic approach to farming if we want to keep our native bees and honey bee populations healthy and happy. The alternative to monoculture is a diverse farm environment. Organic farms have gone back to the basics and research is being done on how to naturally increase yields and profits without harming the environment. This method also allows for higher quality soil and natural means to rehabilitate the soil through alternating planting.