Pollinators Are Key to Sustainable, Holistic Beef

by: John Stigge

Attracting both pollinators and predatory insects is vital to a holistically farmed cover crop field which our cows can rotationally graze.

Pollinators are an indicator of plant health, ecological balance, and soil health. We try to keep a field flowering for the longest duration possible. This means using a mix of plants in our cover crops that flowers throughout the entire growing season. Cool season plants get our fields flowering in the early spring. Warm season plants take over flowering duties in late spring and through summer. Cool season plants return to flowering through the fall. Our diverse assortment of plants allows an almost continuous supply of food for our pollinating insect friends.

Cool season pollinating plants we use:

Balansa Clover, Crimson Clover (however, its deep blossom is tough for some pollinators), Ladino Clover, Red Clover, Persian Clover, Yellow Clover, Austrian Winter Peas, TS-7 Spring Peas, Naomi Woolypod Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Kale, Cabbage, Mustard, Rapeseed

Warm season pollinating plants we use:

Berseem Clover, Cowpeas, Cahaba Vetch, Sunn Hemp, Buckwheat, Chicory, Plantain, Sunflowers

A “one and done” flowering field forces a feast and famine situation

A “one and done” flowering field forces a feast and famine situation on these insanely beneficial insects. Nature does not work this way. Nature provides an almost endless opportunity for pollinating plants to supply pollinators with food. Pollinators are able to harvest for their immediate use and for the non-flowering winter season.

Here in northwest Kansas we have a host of native pollinators. I do not know the names of all the pollinator species flying in our fields. There are far too many for me to remember. But we are not talking about just honey bees. Honey bees, while beneficial, are actually native to Europe.

    Now I am going to get weird on you.

    Pollinators do more than just pollinate. It seems that when you have a large number of varied pollinators hovering in the field, you have more plants our cattle want to eat. Is this just a coincidence? Not likely. Is it my imagination? Maybe. But could the mere activity of the flitting and buzzing pollinators stimulate the plants? I think so. Remember there is nothing scientific here. There are likely a lot of variables I cannot see.

    Back to accepted reality... Since we use a wide variety of cover crops in our fields, we do NOT have disease or insect problems in our fields. But my neighbors have had problems. These fields were separated by just a fence and three feet of grass. In fact, it's been over 12 years since we last used a fungicide or insecticide. Why? Our fields have plant health originating from soil health and a microbial community undisturbed by insecticide or fungicide damage. 

    Some say it is just soil health. No. I say it is all holistic in nature. Insects, plants, fungus, bacteria, plants, and animals are all working harmoniously in nature. Allan Savory stated “Just as there are no parts to nature, neither are there any boundaries.” In nature, one thing directly affects some things. But that one thing indirectly has unlimited effects. I believe pollinators, along with plant feeders and predators, affect more than we are able to discern at this time.

    Glomalin is the Glue

    Legumes sequester nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil. They all flower and attract pollinators. What most people do not realize is that legumes also secrete glomalin. Discovered in 1957, glomalin is the glue produced by legumes that aggregates soil particles. This allows for rainfall infiltration, oxygen movement in the soil, and erosion reduction. Legume roots also exude a sugary substance that helps colonize and support mycorrhizal fungi.

    Brassica plants exude an acid that strips the calcium from other essential minerals that would otherwise be bound in the soil. This frees the minerals to be used by the plants and the microbial community.

    Holistic Beef is the Result

    With the help of pollinators we create a harmonious balance between the pollinators, predator insects, fungus, bacteria, soil, plants, and cattle. Creating this harmony is necessary to raise carbon negative, holistic beef.