Bee population recovering due to regenerative farming, producers say
Paul Kernaleguen says regenerative agriculture has brought bees back to his farm.
“With the flowering species [of plants] we have now, you definitely see more,” he said.
He’s referring to the mixture of plants in his fields, near Birch Hills, Sask. Along with his partner, Erin Dancey, he now grows flowers like red clover, phacelia and sunflowers, along with barley, oats and peas they grow to feed their dairy cattle.
Dancey and Kernaleguen manage their fields with regenerative agriculture. They said the practice has brought greater profits, efficiency and a higher bee population.
Regenerative agriculture, says Cover Crops Canada spokesperson Kevin Elmy, is designed to replenish “the biology in our soils.”
“We’ve mined our soils and our soil is going in the wrong direction,” he said.
“We’ve lost about two-thirds of organic matter in our soils. It’s time to build it back.”
Elmy says the mixture of different crops, which bloom at different times and grow at different rates, replenishes the nutrients and bacteria necessary for the soil to be fertile. And he says that the flowers have encouraged the bees to repopulate.
Kernaleguen said there were lots of bees when he was growing up before they all but disappeared around 10 years ago.
“It’s encouraging,” he said. “It kind of lets you know [the bees are] happy with what you got and you’re helping out the ecosystem.
Kernaleguen didn’t switch to regenerative agriculture because he wanted more bees. He did it because, six years ago, he was worried about feeding his cattle.
“We were in some wet years, Kernaleguen said.
“What we were growing — barley and oats — kept drowning. [So we] got the idea to try something else.”
He attributes the better water management in the soil now to having more active root systems in the soil, and having cover crops — like alfalfa or clover — that are grown for the enrichment of the soil.
Some cover crops are grown all year.
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Dancey, who moved to the farm three years ago, says that mixing the crops in the field has allowed them to harvest the mixed rations they need to feed their cattle. She estimates it now “takes probably a third of the time to get the feed in front of the cows.”
She says the new method has also made the farm more money.
“When you get higher quality feed to the animal then that obviously comes through in the milk side of it,” she said.
“We feel our cows are healthier [and that] they breed back better,” Kernaleguen said.
“They produce a lot more butterfat, butter protein and milk protein.”
He said that the cows now produce fewer litres of milk, but that the farm is making more money because Canadian dairy farms are paid for the kilograms of butterfat that they harvest.
He also said producing less milk has been better for the livestock.
“We don’t feel like we’re red-lining them like we used to. We used to push a lot more litres of milk per animal,” he said.
“The cows are stronger [and] healthier.”
The new farming system, and increased number of bees, has attracted the attention of General Mills, the maker of Cheerios and Lucky Charms.
“This is all-important to rebuild [the] soil health from areas where we source the ingredients,” said Jim Eckberg, a General Mills research agronomist. He said that GM is interested in the regenerative agriculture that Dancey, Kernaleguen and Elmy are using to improve the sustainability in their supply chain.
“Ultimately, to move into the 21st century, to be able to cope with the big challenges we have we need a healthier soil base,” he said, referring to soil depletion and sustainability.
“All of these practices can be implemented whether you’re in Texas or Saskatchewan.”
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