Beekeeping is a small but important part of a changing agriculture. Every year sees changes being made in agricultural production techniques resulting from efforts by farmers to produce food and fiber to an ever increasing world population. Along with greater demands for agricultural products there is an increasing pressure on the producers to adjust to increases in fuel and other costs. One of the easiest ways to reduce fuel costs is for farmers to find ways to reduce tillage of the soil. Such approaches, which may be called “conservation agriculture,” can have benefits for the farmer and the environment. Conservation agriculture is based on farming techniques that keep a cover crop on the ground at all times, disturb the soil at a minimum, and provide for crop rotations. For more, see http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/. Any changes in agriculture affect beekeeping operations in the area. The lessened plowing of fields should immediately benefit many native bees that nest in the soil. These bees lose habitat through industrial agricultural practices that destroy their nest along field margins. Today’s photo shows soybeans being planted into unbroken soil covered in annual grasses. In the distance, a winter wheat field is harvested in the morning and planted the same afternoon without tilling the soil. The grasses and competing crop weeds are killed by an application of herbicides. This planting technique reduces fuel usage, saves ground water, and helps conserve organic matter in the soil, increasing tilth. No-till planting lessens soil erosion, and sometimes reduces fertilizer use. Since weeds spring from broken ground, no-till planting reduces the germination of weed seeds.
A New York Times piece, http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/04/damaging-the-earth-to-feed-its-people/, describes how no-till planting may lessens the release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Agriculture accounts for the release of a considerable amount of the greenhouse gases that are affecting the world’s climate. All forms of agriculture, including beekeeping, are looking for management practices that are more sustainable and less damaging to the environment. All stand to benefit from careful planting.--Richard