Pollinator haven could fill in for crops lost to solar

Senior Editor

(April 4, 2017) There is ample evidence that the presence of large colonies of bees in and around active farmland increases the yields of the crops that come off that land.
Rob Davis, who hails from Minnesota, holds up, side by side, photos of a cucumber and a strawberry — on the left the cucumber is small and misshapen, the strawberry about the size of a dime.
On the right, the cuke is large and straight and the strawberry about the size of a silver dollar.
The left from crops without adequate pollination, the right, the nectar-gathering place for an abundance of bees
He argues that large scale solar installations offer a unique opportunity to increase bee activity on farms.
Replace crop production by planting pollinator habitat, he says, around and under the solar panel array.
Davis is the representative of a Minnesota company called Fresh Energy, which, working with its state’s General Assembly, produced a bill establishing robust and flexible vegetation management requirements for any solar project that is promoted as providing benefits to pollinators, songbirds or game birds.
The bill received broad rural, suburban, and metro support, passing the Minnesota House by a vote of 126-0 and the Minnesota Senate by a vote of 62-2.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill in to law on May 31.
Davis said that with more than 26 million acres of row crops, Minnesota’s solar sites will use fewer than 0.02 percent of Minnesota’s farmland,
Although obviously Maryland’s rural environment is far from — and far less expansive — than Minnesota’s, somewhat similar legislation sponsored by Sen. Thomas “Mac”  Middleton, is working its way through the Maryland General Assembly.
Davis said studies have shown that “good crop yields depend on healthy pollinator communities.”
To back that up, he turns to the pollinator protection plan prepared and issued by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
To what degree do crops depend on insect pollination?
The Maryland Department of Agriculture says, for example, that soybeans show an 18-percent higher yield and heavier seeds when honeybees and wild bees are present.
Also, according to the MDA, apple flowers are self-sterile and depend heavily on cross-pollination by bees to bear marketable fruit.
Watermelons require at least eight visits from pollinators for proper fruit set.
Strawberries require at least 20 bee visits per receptacle, and receive complementary pollination benefits from wild bees.
Raspberries set more and heavier fruit when pollinated by bees.
MDA also offers an inventory of what homeowners, landscapers and growers can do and whom to contact if they are concerned about the bee population.
“Pollinator efforts are extremely important to Maryland agriculture,” the MDA writes. “ Every third bite of food we eat can be attributed to these beneficial organisms.”