On a crisp October day, students and faculty from Texas Tech University, along with Bayer Crop Science representatives, gathered for the groundbreaking of the pollinator planting at the Texas Tech Quaker Avenue Research Farm. Hands from different generations and people collected and planted wildflower seed, side-by-side, in an attempt to contribute to the research being done for the conservation of pollinators.
Texas Tech University was named one of the four national native pollinator planting locations in the United States, and has been a part of Bayer’s Feed a Bee campaign since 2014. Texas Tech University’s Plant and Soil Science Department is one of many different partners the Bayer Bee Health program has.
Scott Longing, Ph.D., professor of entomology in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, said, “The wheels were greased before we were even chosen, it didn’t hurt to already be a partner.”
The Bayer Bee Health program gave Longing and the plant and soil science department 100 pounds of seed to plant for the study and conservation of pollinators. Longing said one of the reasons he believes our region was chosen is related to the pollinator mismatches we have and the area is understudied.
“In the High Plains counties, there are significant pollinator mismatches where we have a lot of agriculture production but not the wild lands to support the pollinators for pollination services,” he said.
Texas Tech was the only university out of the four locations chosen as a pollinator planting site. According to Longing, Tech was awarded the site because the department already had the infrastructure that was needed, and Bayer had been sending seed to the department already.
Graduate and undergraduate students helped during the planting at the Quaker farm and are also going to be involved in the research the plant and soil science department will be conducting.
“We will establish plots, and then we are going to do some irrigation experiments and have different zones in the field we can turn on and off, so we can see what plants grow best under wet and reduced water situations,” Longing said. “We are also going to do some assessment with plant growth and pollinator sampling in the plots to look at which specific flowers attract more pollinators.”
Two plant and soil science graduate students were involved with the pollinator planting event Texas Tech hosted on behalf of the Bayer Bee Health program. They are conducting research with the wildflowers that were planted as well as other crops and the pollinators at the Quaker farm. Bianca Rendon is a graduate student in the department of plant and soil science whose research will focus on foraging behaviors.
“We have honey bees out there that I will cover up with nets, and I am going to see how foraging behaviors change with those honey bees being excluded compared to when they are there regularly,” Rendon said.
The pollinators have a huge importance.
Samuel Discua, a doctoral student in the department, is also conducting research at the Quaker farm using the plants from the Feed a Bee program. His research will mainly focus on native plant attractiveness through pollinators.
“I am looking at pollinators such as native bees, flies, butterflies and other insects that might be visiting the plant at that time, Discua said. “I do that every hour, which is how I can quantify how attractive the plants are to pollinators based on how many insects are visiting within the time frames that I will look.”
Conservation of these pollinators is highly important for agriculture. Many of the foods we eat such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables all need pollinators such as bees to grow. According to Discua, one out of three bites of food we eat are directly attributed to insects because a lot of the crops we eat need to be pollinated. Planting these seeds at the Quaker farm is going to develop foraging areas for these bees to pollinate and thrive.
“The pollinators have a huge importance,” Rendon said. “Out of 124 main total food crops, pollinators account for the pollination and success; so a huge percentage of crops is dependent on these pollinators.”
Rendon believes the five acres they are planting the seed on will make a difference in the conservation of these pollinators.
“These planting will be on five acres which doesn’t seem like a lot but it will make a difference and give those pollinators a place to go to get their nectar and to help other crops,” she said.
The honey bee population is dwindling due to loss of habitat and many other factors. Texas Tech students are using their research to see if native bees could be another alternative.
“We know honey bees are in trouble, so why not use native bees, because they already do a lot of free work for us,” Discua said. “It is estimated that about three billion dollars every year in U.S. agriculture is attributed to the native bee pollination.”
Longing and his students also want to educate farmers on the importance of pollinators and how they can actually help increase crop yield. Many farmers are unaware pollinators contribute at all to their crop production. Educating them on conservation practices will not only help the pollinators but the farmers as well.
“The other thing people need to understand is pollinators, native bees, can actually help farmers,” Discua said. “By having native pollinators and natural strips of land around their fields, farmers can actually increase their cotton yield.”
According to Longing, the Bayer Bee Health program partnering with Texas Tech is a huge opportunity for the students and faculty of the Department of Plant and Soil Science to go deeper into their research with pollinators, and to help establish conservation efforts in the South Plains region.