The Mid Atlantic Poultry Farmer a supplement to the Delmarva Farmer



Top Story, June 2017

Unused buffers on poultry farms may be key to boosting pollinator populations

Associate Editor

MILFORD, Del. — Stressed pollinators might find surprise relief on Delmarva poultry farms if a new buffer project succeeds and spreads.
The Delaware Department of Agriculture and the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., have joined up with a farm here to plant a pollinator-friendly buffer on unused land in the hope that it might boost pollinator populations, cut mowing costs and continue efforts to burnish the poultry industry’s image on the Eastern Shore, said Faith Kuehn, environmental program administrator at the department.
With an $11,000 federal grant, Jim Passwaters planted several pollinator-friendly species on about a half acre at Hill Farms in early May, including wildflowers, milkweed and goldenrod — plants the DPI vegetative environmental buffer program administrator admits he might have sprayed with Roundup years ago.
It’s now more widely understood those species are catnip for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
On Hill Farms, the buffer is planted next to a retention pond and adjacent vegetable crops in need of pollination, he said, and the land will be easier and less costly to maintain.
“Every farmer I’ve ever (spoken) to always complains about how many hours they have to spend on a mower,” Passwaters said.
The project’s first priority is to boost local pollinator populations, including honeybees and butterflies whose numbers have plummeted over the years due to a combination of factors including crop spraying, residential and commercial development, climate change, mites and other issues. But the project could be a public relations assist as well. Passwaters is also planting a patch next to the road with a sign denoting the project, Kuehn said, which could help boost the industry’s image as it manages resistance from some residents across the Shore who have protested the industry’s recent expansion.
“What we’re trying to do is get people’s attention to this,” she said. “I think it will be successful at attracting a variety of honeybees and a variety of native bees. Just from our survey work we know there are a wide number of bees in the agricultural area, and these bees are very good at pollinating crops.”
The USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is also doing similar work in Accomack County, Va., said Jane Corson-Lassiter, a district conservationist for Accomack and Northampton counties.
Virginia Tech is already growing pollinator-friendly plots at its Painter research facility, but the NRCS plans to promote the idea of pollinator-friendly buffers to poultry farms in the region, she said.
They’re currently looking into different seed mixes, she said, that could create blooming plants across the growing season.
“I’m learning a great deal in the process here, so I can be a better advisor,” she said.
But the work has a particular significance for Kuehn and Passwaters because it was initially led by Bill Brown, a popular Hurlock, Md., farmer and UD poultry agent who tragically died after he was electrocuted inside a chicken house in February 2016.
“After he died, none of us had any heart to move it forward,” Kuehn said. “We just kind of let it go for a while.”
But now that they’ve resumed the work, Passwaters said he sees it as a way to remember Brown.
“Bill was a very good friend of mine. Actually, the day he died we had a meeting the next day for this project,” he said. “I’d eventually like to go and do a memory garden for him on a farm.”
They planis  to study the pollinator buffer and have results ready to discuss for next year’s Delaware Ag Week, Kuehn said.