A bumblebee on a Phacelia flower

Farmers - champions for bees

14 Sep 2017
How can farming help bees and pollinators? Find out how some UK farmers are avoiding bee-harming pesticides and creating habitats to help insects thrive.

 

Peter Lundgren, Lincolnshire

Peter is a Lincolnshire farmer who grows crops such as wheat and oilseed rape. He is keen to show others that farming without bee-harming pesticides is feasible using alternative farming solutions. 

Like most farmers, Peter uses pesticides on his farm. But he is adapting his methods in order to minimise the impact of such chemicals on bees and other beneficial insects. He is showing how it’s possible to do this while still running a profitable business. In fact, Peter’s move away from neonicotinoids contradicted the economic losses forecast by the agronomical industry, with his farm making savings on both oilseed rape and wheat production. 

Read more on Peter’s financial conclusions

Peter's strong belief is that “habitat provision and profitable farming are mutually inclusive”. He encourages insects onto his farm as healthy pollinator populations boost his yields.  

“There’s a payoff for ensuring healthy and increasing populations of bees and beneficial insects. They can do our work for us – and they don’t charge for providing the service!”  

“I am managing well without neonicotinoids and by reducing my total use of  insecticides I am able to avoid any additional cost to my business. Taking an approach that works with nature not against it should be the norm for farmers in order to conserve our pollinator populations and natural predators.”

Read about Peter’s approach to controlling pests in 'Farming oilseed rape without neonicotinoids

 

 

David Walston

David Walston, Cambridgeshire

David Walston, farmer of Thriplow farms, is passionate about improving the soil quality of the 900-hectare farm in Cambridgeshire where he grows crops such as wheat, barley and oilseed rape.  

David is already using innovative techniques including no-till and companion crops to improve the soil and help with pest control. Mindful of the impacts that pesticides can have on nature, and their cost to the farmer, David believes all farmers need more support in developing alternative approaches. 

David decided to do an experiment of his own. Since his farm is located in an area where neonicotinoid treated seeds could still be used for oilseed rape in 2015, David planted some areas of his crop fields with neonic-treated seeds and some with untreated. From the collected results, David concluded that neonicotinoid seed treatments had in fact not made a difference in the numbers of cabbage stem flea beetle larvae present: 

“The only certainty at this point is that neonics are most definitely not a guaranteed way to keep flea beetle at bay”. 

Read more on David's oilseed rape results.

David has never used a neonicotinoid seed treatment on his wheat crop and is working to cut down insecticide sprays to a minimum. 

 

John Pawsey

John Pawsey, Suffolk

John Pawsey is a farmer in Suffolk. His 650 hectare farm, Shimpling Park Farm, is entirely organic and he farms a further 687 hectares organically for other farmers. Since converting to organic production in 1999, John has not experienced any significant problems with insect pests in his crops, and he attributes this to the healthy population of predatory insects on the farm.  

Through a varied crop rotation and sensitive management of the whole farm system, John is able to encourage greater diversity.  This not only profits his farming through effective pest management, it is an example of bee friendly attitude to farming - much of which could be adopted in conventional systems. 

John says that when he first heard of neonics, before he had converted to organic, he considered them a bit of a revolution.  But after some research into the scientific arguments surrounding neonics and the damage and disorientation they cause to insects, John realised that these chemicals could be harmful to bees and other pollinators, and that it was 'common sense' not to use them.  

“We have always been a diverse and inventive industry and we should have the confidence to find solutions for ourselves and if saying no to neonics means that we gain more customers, achieve a more resourceful farming community and save our bees along the way; everyone is a winner”. 

Read how John farms wheat without neonicotinoids

 

John Cherry, Hertfordshire

John Cherry of Darnalls Hall Farm is a no-till, minimal pesticide use farmer. His 1000-hectare farm includes in its crop rotation wheat, barley and oats. John has been a zero-till farm for six years now and has become an enthusiast for healthy soils and all the biodiversity that lives within it. He says,  

"A handful of healthy soil contains more living organisms than there are people on the planet, and most of these creatures are our friends".  

Interested in healthier and diverse soils? Take a look at what John says

Along with zero-till methods, John promotes zero-pesticide farming methods. He considers that the use of pesticides and neonic treated seeds can kill off natural enemies that act as an effective pest control. Avoiding the use of pesticides also prevents the build-up of chemical residues that affect the balance of life in his soils. 

John’s idea of bee friendly farming avoids pesticides and concentrates on a balanced ecosystem including natural enemies.  

 

 

Hillfarm, Suffolk

Hillfarm, in Suffolk, is one of the biggest rapeseed oil producers pledging not to use neonicotinoids. The 500,000 litres of rapeseed oil they bottle every year are for sale at Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsburys and Costco, as well as in many farm shops and independent delicatessens across the country.  

Sam Fairs, who runs the business with his father Alan says: “We need bees and other insects to pollinate our crops: they perform a very important function close to the start of the human food chain.” 

With this belief, Hillfarm sow early and prepare their soils so that their plants establish quickly and are less vulnerable to insect pests hiding in the soils.  

They say, “we feel that the right thing to do is to not use neonicotinoids seed treatments on our oilseed rape until there is clear evidence to prove that it is safe to use or not.”  

“We are still very happy not to be using them. … As a business we’ve been growing by about 20% for the last three or four years – we have no regrets”

Find out more about rapeseed oil produced by UK farmers who’ve committed not to use neonics in our Bee-friendly shoppers’ guide to rapeseed oil