By Vicky Boyd,

Syngenta Crop Protection has borrowed a page from the movie “Field of Dreams”—”If you build it, they will come”—for its Operation Pollinator program.

The goal of the program, which also involves the University of California, Davis; Michigan State University and the University of Florida, is to establish about 25,000 acres of habitat worldwide for wild bees and other native pollinators.

Also participating are non-government organizations, such as the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, and the Applewood Seed Co., says Jeff Peters, Syngenta’s national coordinator for the program.

The program isn’t intended to take cropland out of production. Instead, it is intended to encourage growers to plant marginal land to plants that will attract pollinators, he says.

“The program shouldn't hamper productivity—it should enhance productivity,” Peters says.

It also has to make economic sense to the grower for it to be widely adapted.

In Michigan, for example, growers can apply for cost-share funding through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, says Rufus Isaacs, an entomology professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Funding to help pollinators was included in the most recent farm bill.

A program similar to Operation Pollinator in the United Kingdom between 2001 and 2004—the Buzz Project— showed a 600 percent increase in bee numbers, a 12-fold increase in butterflies and a 10-fold increase in other pollinating insects through habitat enhancement.

The U.K. program has continued and was the basis for Syngenta’s efforts. Operation Pollinator involves 13 European Union Countries and the United States. Australia is expected to sign on shortly, Peters says.

In each state with a participating university, there will be three cooperating growers.

In Michigan, the target crop is blueberries. In California, it’s watermelons, and in Florida, it’s cucurbits.

Areas ranging from about a half acre up to about 2 acres will be planted in mixes of native flowering plants.

Each of the planted areas will be matched with an untreated area to compare pollinator numbers.

Part of the research will examine which mixes are better at attracting pollinators, Peters says. Are annuals or perennials better?

Researchers also will measure how far into the adjoining crop the pollinators forage and try to quantify economic benefits to the growers, says Isaacs, who is heading up Michigan’s efforts.

Previous research has shown that native pollinators can increase watermelon yields by up to 10 percent, he says.

Isaacs says the cooperating blueberry growers he’s working with have already prepared the sites, and they will be planted this fall using a no-till seeder.

That way, the seeds can undergo vernalization during the winter.

The areas will include a strip of clover and a strip of annual plants, with the majority planted to perennials.

Having the clover and annuals will provide nectar sources early in the season before the perennials begin to bloom, Isaacs says.

Operation Pollinator also will involve tailgate sessions and field days to help educate growers about pollinators and the program’s benefits.