Stemilt earns certification in Bee Friendly Farming
Stemilt and its company-owned-and-managed orchards earned their Bee Friendly Farming certification earlier this month through Pollinator Partnership located in California. Pollinator Partnership and its Bee Friendly Farming program was created to help ensure the future of both pollinators and sustainable agriculture as it expands across North America and around the globe.
“Led by General Manager Robin Graham, our team set out a couple of years ago to identify sustainable farming methods that would also work to protect the bees from colony collapse disorder and other factors harming bee populations,” said Stemilt President West Mathison. “The Stemilt team recognized this issue and knew that bees are an essential part of growing World Famous fruit, so they took action.”
Graham and his team were then connected to Pollinator Partnership and knew the partnership was a good fit.
“It was clear to the team that the BFF’s program was robust and based on solid science and the requirements to receive a certification were in line with biodiversity strategies we believe in,” said Mathison. “Certification meant an opportunity to expand bee habitats across our farming operation and join countless others in the fight to save the bees.”
Graham and his team began implementing BFF requirements across five ranches. While Stemilt already had some requirements met, like practicing Integrated Pest Management, offering clean water resources, and providing some different types of flowers, the Stemilt team still had some work to do.
“Stemilt had almost met the requirements when we first started the process,” said Miles Dakin, Bee Friendly Farming coordinator for Pollinator Partnership. “They just needed a little more guidance on plant species selection and planting locations, but they were already implementing many best management practices to support pollinators. They are a great candidate for the program, and we are excited to have them part of it. We are looking forward to watching their successes and collaborating more in the future.”
The criteria that required the most of the Stemilt team’s time was identifying, creating and laying a seed mixture designed to provide natural nutrition, pollen and flowers to the bees. After many of hours of deliberation, the group was able to finalize it and lay the seed down in early April. Later this spring, once the seeds germinate and flowers begin to bloom, there will be hundreds of acres of pollinator habitats and wildflowers along with nesting sites for the bees to reside in.
“This seeding mixture is in addition to several areas that already have wildflowers growing to promote pollinator habitat,” said Mathison. “While most of our current pollinator rows are located at the end of the block, the team also included seeding mixture within the rows, too.”
Once bloom occurs and habitats are established, the Stemilt team will measure the success of the program by counting bees per square foot to gauge the program’s progress.
“I know the team, myself included, is excited to see how this first year goes,” said Mathison. “While we know there will be some trial and error, and there will be some things to figure out, I believe the program will be successful.”
The Bee Friendly Farming certification falls within Stemilt’s commitment to farm sustainably under the Responsible Choice program. Responsible Choice was founded in 1989 when Stemilt Founder Tom Mathison transitioned several hundred acres of conventional apples to organic. Tom was a big proponent of “leaving the earth better than you found it” and wanted to ensure that this mantra lived on. Stemilt’s team continues to carry that on throughout their whole operation.
“We know bees are a critical factor in farming and without them, it would be tough to grow World Famous fruit,” said Mathison. “We are excited to get this program off the ground so we can continue fulfilling our mission of cultivating people (and bees in this case) and delighting consumers through excellence.”