Pending Endangered Listings: What Growers Need to Know
Two pending endangered species listings for pollinators can have major impacts on the almond industry as many almond growers have added pollinator forage such as blooming cover crops, hedgerows and floral strips to add value to their operation. Josette Lewis, Almond Board of California chief scientific officer, said 2023 will be a decisive year for the endangered listing of the monarch butterfly and native bees in California, which leads to questions for growers. However, work is underway to protect producers if this happens and Lewis took some time to answer those questions.
Q – What is the status of the monarch butterfly being listed as an endangered species?
Lewis – A couple of years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the decision that monarch butterflies were warranted as an endangered species, but they had other priorities at the time. So, while it was not going to be listed, they are required by law to revisit that decision by the end of this calendar year.
Q – If they do get listed as endangered, what does that mean for an almond grower?
Lewis – It means a couple of things:
The first is that a lot of almond growers have stepped up and added pollinator forage, flower resources and habitat to their farms and land around their farms. We’ve seen a great response in terms of the number of growers who have registered as Bee Friendly Farms, who are putting in flowering cover crops, and working with organizations like Monarch Joint Venture to specifically put in monarch habitat around their ranches. Several handlers are working with growers on pollinator habitat too, as it has value to some almond buyers.
For those growers who have stepped up, we want to make sure that they are protected if the monarch is listed as an endangered species. So, if they accidentally harm the caterpillars or the butterflies themselves, we want to make sure that they are not breaking the law because they’ve done such a good job of adding that forage into their operation.
The other issue, on an industry level, is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – who has to approve every crop production product our industry can use – was also mandated by law to increase their review of the potential negative impacts of pesticides on endangered species.
We know that if the monarch is listed, some of the products we use when they come up for re-registration, or any new products that are developed and need to be registered, will have extra scrutiny for their potential impact and could involve more restrictions on the use of those products.
Q – So it sounds like this could be a legal concern for growers and a bigger concern of more regulation on certain products if the monarch gets listed as endangered. What is ABC doing to address these two concerns?
Lewis – We’ve been working with the Almond Alliance of California, other California agricultural interest groups, and some conservation groups who have been valuable partners of the California almond industry to negotiate a conservation agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would protect growers who have monarch habitat if they accidentally harm any of those monarch butterflies or larvae.
The way those agreements work is that we have to show that there’s a net benefit to the pollinators. Things like adding flowers and habitat for monarch butterflies, and in exchange for doing those good things, in this agreement you’re then protected if you accidentally harm monarchs.
Also, as part of those negotiations, we are including the kind of practices that reduce risks of crop protection products and try to demonstrate that we can use those safely and still have a net benefit to monarch butterflies.
Q – “Net benefit” seems like the important term in this conversation. ABC grower-funded research has already been completed in this realm and showed pollinator gains from increased habitat outweighs the risk. Can you explain that?
Lewis – That’s right. ABC funded research with a native bee expert at UC Davis, which was published last year, showed that when farmers add floral strips – such as wildflower strips, part of a hedge row or just wildflowers near the outside the orchard – the added food for native bees helps protect those bees from the impacts of pesticide exposure. So, there is a net benefit to those native bees.
This research provides good, peer-reviewed and science-based evidence that shows these kinds of activities we have seen many growers in our industry do have a net benefit.
Q – ABC and partners are already addressing these concerns, which is good because more and more growers and handlers are utilizing this practice, right?
Lewis – A lot of growers have been looking at cover crop and adding that into their orchard management. This year in particular, I heard a grower who planted cover crops talk about how the water didn’t stay standing in their orchards back in early spring when we had so much rain, rather that the water infiltrated and drained much more quickly.
There are agronomic benefits from the practice that are worth considering, in addition to benefits to pollinators. And adding more permanent habitat outside the orchard is another area where a number of our handlers in the industry have seen a market value. Buyers want to know that they have a supply chain of almonds that allows biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem on the farm. Some handlers have really leaned in with their growers and are encouraging those kinds of practices, and that’s added certain value to both growers and handlers.
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