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What's abuzz in your field boundaries?

May 4, 2017

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is working on two projects to help understand how field boundaries affect their surrounding environments and farmers' bottom lines.

Field boundaries are the non-cropped areas surrounding or adjacent to cropped land, like ditches, fence lines, shelterbelts and road allowances. When farmland is consolidated into bigger fields, field boundaries are often removed. But not enough is known about the consequences.

Quantifying the value of field boundaries

To find out more, AAFC staff in the eastern Prairies is researching the economic and ecological value of these field boundaries. Farmers know field boundaries filter nutrient runoff and are home to beneficial insects and microbes. But the benefits have never been quantified, so they can't be measured against the financial gain that comes from removing field boundaries to increase field size. Is the trade-off worth it?

This project's goal is to answer that question by studying the diversity, structure and role of non-cropped field boundaries and how they interact with adjacent crops. Results are expected in late 2018.

Studying what bees need

Meanwhile, a related study is going on in Manitoba, where AAFC staff is studying native bees and their habitat requirements. The 970 or so species of bees native to Canada provide major pollination benefits to Canadian export crops, like canola and blueberries. Most live in underground burrows or other natural cavities in non-cultivated land, and fly less than a kilometre from their homes. The need for pollinators, like bees, to live alongside the crops that depend on them is clear. Bees need 3 things: food from spring to fall, a place to nest year-round, and protection from tillage and pesticides.

Staff will sample bee populations near canola fields and conduct habitat assessments, identifying types of vegetation, farm management practices, and the size and distribution of food and nesting locations within a one-kilometre radius of each trapping site. They will then identify ways to improve and recreate habitat for native bees in Manitoba.

Both projects aim to help farmers and landowners assess, improve and recreate field boundary habitats that are good for bees and will sustain or improve crop production.

For more information, see Native pollinators and agriculture in Canada.

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