Bee Friendly Farming (BFF) is an online, self-certification program that provides guidelines for farmers and growers interested in promoting pollinator health on their lands. It is managed by the Pollinator Partnership program and proceeds from this program go directly towards cost-share efforts by growers to plant additional bee forage across North America.
We are proud to be one of the first large-acre farms in Canada to obtain this certification. You can find more about what is involved here.
In recent years we have introduced several new techniques into our operation which help and promote pollinator species. We have increased the diversity of the plant species we grow, increasing the length of time that we have growing (and flowering) plants on our farm, reduce the frequency and intensity of tillage and introducing livestock to graze on our cropland. All of these practices are important as they allow a diverse food chain to flourish, from micro and macro soil organisms to insects, grazers, birds, bats, and finally predators such as coyotes, foxes, and birds of prey. This also helps to increase pollinator numbers by providing the necessary habitat and food for these endangered species.
Cover crops are considered to be any crop that is planted but not harvested for the purpose of generating income. In many cases, these species are planted in between or in rotation with cash crops in order to provide the necessary food and habitat for the soil microbiology to thrive. We take this one step further by planting several mixes of more than 10 different cover crop species several times during the growing season. This provides a diverse array of flowering species throughout the growing season and creates an abundance of different types of flower architecture which will attract and support a variety of pollinator species. As part of our program, we also use the practice of green manures to provide the necessary nutrients back into the soil. This practice involves including a nitrogen-fixing legume such as yellow clover or forage peas in the cover crop mix which is then crimped or grazed down after flowering so that they decompose and release those nutrients back into the soil. These green manure fields provide many acres of flowering food sources and are regularly rotated around the farm each year so that the entire expanse of the operation receives a flowering green manure at least once every four years.
At any point during the growing season, we will have a field of cover crops, green manure/clover plow down or intercrops blooming and providing food for pollinators. However, there are also several other initiatives we have taken to protect pollinators on our farm.
In 2017 we joined the Operation Pollinator program facilitated by the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association (SSCA). This program provided producers with pollinator seed mixes which they can plant in marginal areas of their land which would otherwise be left fallow or underutilized. We planted 2 acres of pollinator seed using this program which then inspired us to incorporate permanent pollinator habitat in other areas of our farm.
In 2018 we seeded all of our buffer strips to permanent pollinator cover. These buffer strips are required as part of our organic certification and must be located along any border between an organic and conventionally farmed field. These strips are at least 30 feet wide by a half a mile or more long depending on the field. Traditionally these buffer strips are tilled several times throughout the year and left bare. However, we saw this as an opportunity to plant perennial pollinator mixes which would provide habitat for bees and other pollinator species instead of letting this land sit unproductive year after year.
At different points around our land base, there are several sources of open and flowing clean water which is ideal for bees and other insects to use. There are also several unworked areas between their farmed land which are still in native prairie. This is vital for providing bumblebees and pollinating flies with land to nest in and wild plants to provide food. In addition, there are several shelterbelts and windbreaks with flowering shrubs and trees which also provide pollinator forage and habitat. There are also several hundred acres of perennial native and tame grass grazing land which we make sure is managed in a sustainable way without overgrazing and decreasing the quantity of forage or native flowers available to pollinators.