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An integrated relationship

Honey bees and flowering plants are natural partners. They have a mutually beneficial relationship, and both are stronger when together. While many benefit from this relationship, two groups in particular are invested in its continued success: beekeepers and farmers.

The two professions have a mutual interest in the health of honey bees, and for farmers this means ensuring that nearby hives are kept safe.

This includes farmers like Jay Schultz, who grows yellow peas, canola and wheat on his 4500-acre farm near Standard, Alberta. While some farmers in Western Canada have formal partnerships with beekeepers for pollination services, Jay doesn’t work directly with beekeepers, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t take honey bee safety seriously.

Jay subscribes to a process known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a set of farming practices that balances keeping crops healthy with protecting the environment. These practices are something most Canadian farmers do on their farm. Though not dedicated to honey bees specifically, IPM is about using the right tool at the right time and at the right dose, for the good of the farm as well as for all beneficial insects.

“Best practices are naturally bee friendly,” Jay explains. “They wouldn’t make sense otherwise.”

The major tenet of IPM is using the right tool for the right job. Some years, wheat farmers in Alberta might face an infestation of wireworms, while in other growing seasons they might face pressures from wheat midge. Canadian farmers would only treat the specific issue they face for that season, and would first try any preventative techniques available to them.

While many of the benefits of IPM are environmental, they also make sense economically: the less product used on a field, the less it will cost farmers. Jay has embraced an innovative production system that protects crops without the need for spraying additional pesticide on the growing plant. Instead, the seeds themselves are treated, causing less product to be applied to the field.

But there are other practices Jay and many other farmers incorporate into their farm operation voluntarily, including planting natural forage areas near their fields to attract pollinators. “Most of all, it comes down to communication,” he says. “We make sure we know when bees are foraging so we can plan ahead.”

In any management system used by Canadian farmers, communication with neighbours is always a good practice.

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