Butterflies are more than eye candy. Along with bees, these gorgeous insects play a crucial role in our food system, pollinating roughly 35 percent of the world’s food. That’s why Jamie Johnson decided to plant a pollinator-friendly garden on her family’s fourth-generation soybean, corn and wheat farm near Frankfort.
“Our two oldest daughters study rangeland plants and entomology for 4H, so I thought it would be fun to have our own little area to study outside our door,” Jamie said. “The plants along the barn are native prairie plants that serve as food and home to the native pollinators in our area. Some plants are host plants, which means they provide a home for the insect to lay eggs and for caterpillars to eat as they grow. Others provide nectar for adult insects to forage.”
The garden includes black-eyed Susan, milkweed, prairie drop seed grass, little bluestem grass, golden Alexander, gray headed coneflower, meadow blazing star and New England aster.
“I also have zinnias planted throughout the farmyard and in my garden, a definite butterfly favorite. It is an easy annual flower that’s very low maintenance,” Jamie explained.
She also pays attention to their other needs. During times of drought, creeks and rivers get low and stagnant, which makes it difficult for pollinators to get the water they need. She keeps a small dish of clean water near the plants so that bees and butterflies can quench their thirst when they visit the garden.
Protecting the land and insects in the natural environment is a priority for many farm families like the Johnsons. Bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects pollinate crops, helping them grow and reproduce. According to research from Iowa State University, soybeans may experience an 18 percent in yield boost when exposed to honey bees and native pollinators.
Responsible pesticide use is a crucial part of protecting pollinators. The Johnsons use precision technology in their sprayer to prevent pesticides from drifting off the crop field and onto nearby ditches, prairieland and shelter beds where pollinators live and forage. By planting GMOs or using soil-applied insecticides, they can target the insects and weeds that damage their crops without harming beneficial insects.
“As farmers, we know that having a healthy population of good insects helps keep the harmful bug population in control,” stated Jamie. “We also know it’s important to keep diversity in the prairieland, not only for wildlife, but also to keep the soil healthy. That’s why we only use the amount of pesticide needed to eliminate harmful insects or weeds.”
From protecting honeybees and practicing conservation tillage to implementing precision agriculture techniques, farmers are continuously trying to make their operations more sustainable. Sustainability means doing what’s right by the environment and leaving the land and water in better condition for future generations.
“As farmers, we care deeply about the plants, animals and soil,” Jamie contended. “Everything is connected in a delicate cycle. We try to do our very best to keep it all in balance in order to grow and raise safe, nutritious food.”
Want to learn more about the farmer and pollinator connection in South Dakota? Read this blog to learn how farmers and beekeepers work together to protect beneficial insects and grow healthy crops.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.