Explore the important role played by pollinators in agriculture.
Did you know that pollinators in agriculture are responsible for pollinating approximately 30 percent of the world’s food and fiber crops? According to AgPollinators.org, about one out of every four bites of food or sips of a beverage is made possible because of pollinators. Explore the top 10 pollinators below, and find out how everyone can help pollinators.
Top 10 Pollinators in Agriculture
According to Ag Pollinators, there are many different pollinators. They are responsible for pollinating a wide number of crops; examples include fruits like blueberries and strawberries; vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers; orchard and grove crops like apples, almonds and citrus; and other crops such as sunflowers and soybeans. Pollinators also have a positive impact on beef, livestock, and dairy industries as they help pollinate forages and hay crops. Major agricultural pollinators include:
- Wild honey bees. Native honey bees are the most commonly known pollinator. They are ‘volunteers’ that work tirelessly pollinating a variety of crops. Recent problems with colony collapse and bee pests have put the wild honey bee population in danger, leading to many initiatives to aid honey bee health. According to a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) publication, certain crops—such as blueberries, apples, and cherries—are 90 percent dependent upon honey bee pollination.
- Managed bees. Wild honey bees are not the only pollinating bee species. Many different types of bees—including managed honey bee hives consisting mainly of European honey bees—are kept commercially to serve the agriculture industry. Commercial beekeepers will bring their hives into a farmer’s field for a few days to a few weeks to pollinate the crop. Ag Pollinators maintains that California’s almond crop relies on 3 million honey bee colonies to pollinate over 615,000 acres of almond orchards every year.
- Bumble bees. Commercial beekeepers also use bumble bees to help farmers pollinate their crops. When the AgAmerica Lending team toured Kirkland Farms, a farm with a blueberry operation located in Lakeland, Florida, we learned that bumble bees are a necessity, because honey bees won’t work gathering pollen when it’s raining or even overcast!
- Other bee species. According to the NRCS, there are approximately 4,000 bee species in the U.S. Many bees also visit flowers; they are gathering pollen and/or nectar as food, and pollination is simply a byproduct that Nature has taken advantage of. Other bee species include blue orchard mason bees, carpenter bees, and many more that help pollinate agricultural crops and native plants.
- Butterflies. The USDA Forest Service’s Pollinator of the Month publication recognizes insect and animal species that contribute to pollination in the U.S. While butterflies are not as efficient as bees at pollination, there are eight different butterflies that we know act as pollinators.
- Moths. Moths are the unseen pollinators of flowers that open at night. There are four different kinds of moths that act as pollinators, according to the USDA’s Forest Service.
- Wasps. Wasps have a less positive reputation than bees, but several wasps are categorized as pollinators by the USDA’s Forest Service. The paper wasp, yellow jacket, and sphecidae wasp are examples of those needing pollen and nectar for survival.
- Other Insects. There are a handful of flies and beetles, and even one species of mosquito, that are pollinators.
- Birds. A few birds act as pollinators, according to the USDA’s Forest Service. The most common throughout the U.S. are hummingbirds which are key in wildflower pollination.
- Bats. Two different bat species, the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat, drink nectar from flowers, and act as pollinators along the way, according to the USDA’s Forest Service.
Supporting Pollinators in Agriculture
There are many resources and practices for supporting pollinators in your area of the country. The most common option is to support pollinator habitats. This can be done by:
- Keeping patches of native plants on agricultural property.
- Offering plants that flower at different times of the year.
- Providing housing, such as butterfly boxes and carpenter bee houses.
- Providing water sources, such as a bird bath.
- Practicing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies to avoid spraying pollinators with pesticides.
Resources like your local Extension office and the NRCS’s Be a Friend to Pollinators page are other resources for your area. AgAmerica Lending supports the nation’s ag industry, so we support pollinators in ag, too. Contact us to find out how we can help your ag operation with our custom loan packages.