Robin Hunt and Johan Bos, the owners and operators of Big Rock Ranch are a newly registered bee-friendly farm in British Columbia. Here they are photographed on their ranch after returning from Washington, D.C., earning themselves a Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award during the 19th Annual NAPPC International Conference. Millar Hill photo.

Work hard, stay bumble: South Cariboo Farmers receive Famer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award

‘Once we had the bees, we realized how crucial they are’

Robin Hunt and Johan Bos were buzzing after receiving an award by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign for their contributions to the protection of pollinator species.

“We are always looking at different ways to improve environmentally on the farm,” said Hunt, co-owner of Big Rock Ranch. “One of the big things we decided to do, is looking into the pollinator species, especially bees, and learn what we can do to help them.”

The Big Rock Ranch duo is fairly new to working with bees but their recent work earned them a Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award during the 19th Annual NAPPC International Conference in Washington, D.C. That award recognizes individuals or families on both U.S. and Canadian farms for their contribution to the protection of these species.

“We look for an individual’s participation in certain programs,” said Victoria Wojcik, director of the Pollinator Partnership of Canada. “Robin and Johan, they have been registered as bee-friendly farmers. Their registration and description was an interesting take on how you can be innovative in promoting pollinator conservation and be aware of bee health within your agricultural operation.”

Related: Keeping bees in the Cariboo: Local producers bring awareness to honey fraud

The couple’s curiosity led them to the Pollinator Partnership and the Bee-Friendly Farming program, which earned them the expenses-paid, week-long trip that featured the award reception, a two-day conference and workshops. Hunt said the bee-friendly program was a self-certification process.

“You go through an evaluation process based on what you’re doing on the farm for pollinator species,” said Hunt. “Six to 10 per cent of your operation is supposed to be set aside towards the species. We went through the process and that led us to a nomination for the award.”

“It was a surprise to us,” the couple added.

Wojcik said the two stood out because they came to bees almost secondarily and incorporated them into challenging geography.

“It was factors like that, that differentiate them from other registrants and previous year applicants,” said Wojcik.

According to Hunt, there are roughly 15 farms in British Columbia that are registered as bee-friendly.

“We saw the conservation efforts and how much pollinators benefit our food,” said Hunt. “We noticed since introducing the bees on the farm and more food for them on the farm. We saw an increase in our production. You can really see the difference when you add pollinators and have that relationship with them on the farm.”

The ranch initially started with one hive for the sake of their garden but the couple became more interested in the species and started creating a safe environment for the species around the farm.

“Once we had the bees, we realized how crucial they are,” said Hunt. “The fun part is when you’re out working in the field and you’re bumping into them and working alongside you on the farm – it was cool to have that symbiotic relationship together. It’s almost like having another employee and you get to know their way of bee-ing, it’s really fascinating.”

Hunt and Bos planted pollinator-specific flowers and leave piles of wood to hibernate in around the farm.

“Whether we like to see it or not, they (bees) play a big role for farmers across the world,” said Hunt. “We hope to inspire other people to maybe get a beehive or look into bees and learn what kind of habitats they need and how they could build one.”

Wojcik said the presence of bees and flies are vital for all landscapes and the sustainability of those systems.

“Robin and Johan are a young and motivated couple that is presenting, what I think, a new picture for what it looks like to grow and farm,” said Wojcik.

Bee Friendly Farming Basics

– Plant flowers to bloom during the entire foraging season.

– Provide pollen and nectar resources to aid bee nutrition.

– Leave areas on the property untilled and “wild” with deadwood.

– Zero to low pesticide use.

– Ensure there is a nearby source of clean water.

– Restore pollinator habitat to support all beneficial insects

Protecting the species

According to the Government of Canada, there are over 700 native species in Canada, with bees being the most common pollinators. Other species include butterflies, moths, flies, some beetles, hummingbirds and some bats. These species play a significant role in pollinating two-thirds of the plants on earth.

Research has determined that certain pesticides pose an immediate or acute threat to bees. In order to protect this species, the labels of pesticides that pose such risks specify detailed use directions to reduce potential exposure. Those directions include restrictions on pesticide spraying on flowering crops or weeds where bees may be present.

According to Health Canada, they are actively working with agriculture and environment ministries to ensure agricultural practices across the country protect the pollinator species.

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