WHY WE JOINED OPERATION POLLINATOR

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Land use, relationships, new science and more

As president of the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association, Dustin Hannah got a first-hand look at the Operation Pollinator biodiversity program when it was first being talked about.

As part of a large family farming operation at Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, he soon made the decision for his family to be involved.

Operation Pollinator is a Syngenta program focused on research and partnerships to promote the health and well-being of bees and other pollinators. Launched in Western Canada’s farming community in 2017, participating producers agree to seed plots of up to two acres of usually underutilized or lower productivity land to long-term habitat for wild pollinators.

In return for committing this land to the project, farmers receive high-quality pollinator-friendly wildflower seed for their plots, agronomic advice and some financial support from the program to help offset establishment costs. Operation Pollinator is delivered in partnership with the Soil Conservation Council of Canada which in turn is working with delivery agents in each of the three Prairie Provinces: Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association, Manitoba Conservation Districts Association and the Alberta Research and Extension Council of Alberta.

The Hannah family seeded three plots in 2017 on different farms among the four family members who own land in the business partnership.

Dustin Hannah says there are several reasons why they decided to participate.

It’s good use of land

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“We all have little pieces of land that we try to get into with a drill and can barely turn around. You are overlapping two thirds of the drill coming back out and it really doesn’t make money but it’s better than leaving as weeds.

 “It seemed like a good fit to use some of those areas in a way that promotes conservation, rather than just putting it into crop and not making any money on it.”

 It’s about relationships

 Hannah says his family believes the farming business today is about building relationships.

 “If you have a relationship where you are both giving and taking, not always just looking for something, it seems to benefit. We do that with our grain buyers, fertilizer suppliers and others.

“So, to be frank, part of our interest in this is having a relationship with companies like Syngenta. You don’t know what could develop. It doesn’t hurt to do this program, in fact it will benefit. And who knows what other benefits could come out of it.”

 It makes sense for industry

 The program also fits with the broader needs of the cropping industry, says Hannah.

 There are fewer livestock producers and as farms are being bought there are more of these little areas that are underutilized as equipment gets bigger.

 “We could put these into pollination plots. Pollinators can find food and habitat there as well as other wildlife like deer, moose or elk,” he says. “Rather than let them go back to weeds and have seeds blow across your land or float down the ditch to the neighbor’s, it is more responsible to seed them down to something like this.”

 There’s potential for new science

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Hannah also thinks it might be possible to learn more about the difference being made in wild pollinator levels.

 “I don’t know how you do pollinator counts. I’m not a scientist. But perhaps a comparison could be done in a different location near the Operation Pollinator location to see how many pollinators there are on the sites and the general health of them, just to see if we are actually increasing pollinators and giving them a better habitat.

 “Then, rather than being just a feel-good story, we can say, yes, we are actually accomplishing something.”

 Simple to participate

 Hannah says he’s found the Operation Pollinator program simple to participate in with registration straightforward and seeding was simple.

 “We went in and did a preseed burn while we were already in the area spraying roundup on canola and then went in later that week with our harrows and a valmar applicator to seed. It was very easy to  do.”

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 Phacelia in full bloom in Dustin Hannah's Operation Pollinator site - August 2017