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Cattle, Honey Bees Graze in Harmony on Wisconsin Farm

By Tivoli Gough, Wisconsin

Learn more about NRCS conservation work for honey bees

Learn more about NRCS conservation work for honey bees.

Reed Fitton includes clover species in his pastures to provide food for his cattle and his honey bee

Reed Fitton has enhanced honey bee habitat on the pastures he manages near Gays Mills, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Mace Vaughan, Xerces Society.

Reed Fitton includes clover species in his pastures to provide food for his cattle and his honey bee

Reed Fitton includes clover species in his pastures to provide food for his cattle and his honey bees.

Reed Fitton grazes cattle on the hilltop farm where the late conservationist Ben Logan grew up and later wrote about in his book, “The Land Remembers.” Fitton carefully manages the farm near Gays Mills, Wisconsin with a strong conservation ethic, from preventing soil erosion to protecting waterways. He has also transformed the Ben Logan Farm into an oasis for honey bees and other pollinators.

When USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service launched a new targeted honey bee effort in 2014, Fitton was one of the first to participate. He works closely with NRCS to make conservation improvements to his land that provide better forage for his cattle. He also works with NRCS to improve existing hayfields and convert corn fields into healthy pastures.

June to September is a critical time for bees to forage and store food for winter. This is especially true in Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, which together are home to about 70 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the United States.

To attract honey bees and other pollinators, an area must have adequate sources of food, shelter and nesting sites. A variety of wildflowers and grasses – like the ones in Fitton’s pastures – provide pollinators with food.

To protect the clover blossoms and aid in enhancing and protecting pollinator habitat on his farm, Fitton prevents livestock from grazing the plants below four inches in height.

“Leaving the plants growing higher than the minimum required really seemed to help in reference to the number of pollinators I see around,” Fitton said. “I’ve found letting the pasture go a little longer has been helpful for the pollinators and minimizes bloat in my herd because the lush clover has time to ripen up,” he said.

And what he’s doing is working. “Due to my conservation efforts and through technical and financial assistance provided by NRCS, I’ve seen more pollinators this year than I ever have before.”

Fitton and his partner, Amanda Rubasch, have six active beehives. “Our beehives look healthy, I’ve got more bees and pollinators around, and honey production is up. There are bees all over the place now, which is rewarding to see,” Fitton said.

Karyl Fritsche, NRCS’ local district conservationist, worked with Fitton to develop and implement a conservation plan and plant seed mixes.

“Reed has been very proactive both in communicating his long-term goals, while taking into consideration the effects on ecosystem around him, which made integrating the prescribed grazing a great fit for this pollinator effort,” Fritsche said.

Fritsche said she hopes more private landowners like Fitton, take advantage of technical and financial assistance available from NRCS. This year, the agency is making available $4 million. Landowners interested in participating should contact their local USDA service center to learn more.

Learn more about NRCS’ efforts to help honey bees and other pollinators. For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA service center.