Will prairie strips help pollinators?
Prairie strips provide both abundant and diverse flowering plants to agricultural landscapes, which are essential for supporting honey bees and conserving wild bees and butterflies. Flowers provide critical food resources for these insects: nectar for adult bees and butterflies, and pollen for the young bees. Furthermore, a growing body of scientific literature indicates that bee health is improved when they are provided a diverse diet of plants.
Corn and soybean crop fields also provide pollen and nectar, but only for a limited time. Once these crops stop blooming, there are little-to-no flowers left for bees and butterflies in the Midwestern landscape. Prairie strips provide a diversity of flower types, and thus food, continuously throughout the summer, including the late summer-to-fall, a critical time of the year when pollinators, especially honey bees are storing resources for the coming winter.
In addition to a diversity of flowers, Monarch butterflies require milkweed to complete their lifecycle. Adults use nectar from several flowers as food, but their larvae feed solely on milkweed leaves. We work with farmers and farmland owners to include several milkweed species in prairie strip seed mixes to help support these iconic butterflies.
There are some unanswered questions with regard to potential insecticide exposure to pollinators associated with placing diverse floral resources adjacent to crop fields. We are in the process of conducting studies to better determine the impact of insecticide use adjacent to prairie strips. But these impacts can be minimized if insecticides are applied using integrated pest management (IPM) principles and according to their labeled directions. More information can be found at ISU's website on Integrated Pest Management.
In sum, prairie strips well integrated into crop fields can help farmers and farmland owners meet multiple objectives for crop production and pollinator conservation.