Our Orchard is an Ecosystem
Everything in our orchard — birds, bats, mammals, insects, plants, trees, fungi — works together to maintain a balance that supports the whole community. The greater the assortment of habitat we provide, the more diverse the species that populate our orchard. A range of plants appeals to a variety of insects that attracts a wealth of other animals and so on. This mixture of habitats supports a network of ecosystems that ultimately strengthens the biodiversity of our entire farm.
Biodiversity builds resiliency on a farm, assimilating unforeseen weather damage or crop injury.
Agricultural ecosystem services depend on biodiversity:
- valuable pollination assistance
- effective pest control
- better soil, water, and air quality
- indispensable waste recycling
- improved run-off reduction
- vital fire and flood prevention
Biodiversity loss is a loss of nature
Eroding or destroying habitat results in the weakening or elimination of species because conditions particular to a plant or animal no longer exist. The balance shifts between all communities, diminishing or erasing ecosystems and ecosystem services. Eventually, the biological diversity in an orchard, forest, or frontier is lost.
Until fairly recently, biodiversity and its correspondent ecosystem services have facilitated agriculture to such a degree that to diminish one imperils the health of all. The need to secure a food supply and to automate in general has compromised this interrelationship. So far, the solution to consumer demand for staple goods has been to convert forest and grassland into pasture and cropland. Rising production pressures notwithstanding, land conversion is untenable as habitat destruction and fragmentation triggers serious biodiversity loss.
Simple vs Complex Systems
Modern agriculture emphasizes productivity. By utilizing available land and streamlining operations, large quantities (produce, meat, dairy, lumber) can be quickly generated and distributed. Monocultures are a key feature. Efficient, the expectation is that by specializing in a single crop, bigger yields with fewer resources can be produced. Typically, anything “non-crop” is eliminated to minimize competition for water and nutrients. That’s why not much exists but fruit trees inside the interior of large-scale commercial orchards that are hundreds to thousands of acres in size at one thousand trees per acre. Because monocultures don’t exist in nature, it follows that simplified landscapes, while functional, are not attractive to wild pollinators, presenting scarce foraging or sheltering opportunities. Be that as it may, real demand pressure from global population growth will be realized. Anticipating greater production gains through more environmental control, big farming operations look to new technology, “precision agriculture,” to mitigate sustainability challenges and biodiversity loss. Fingers crossed.
Although we specialize in a single crop — fruit — we grow several different varieties of peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears. Bloom and ripening times vary, extending the availability of nectar and foraging sources. Notably, we grow seventeen acres of noncontiguous fruit on a fifty-acre farm. Instead of a completely cleared site, better than half of our property has been maintained in forest and meadow that thread in and around our fruit trees. Woods, pond, hedge, grassland, and orchard mix to produce a mosaic of habitats that offer a diversity of resources throughout the year. Formerly a Gerber pear orchard, our farm sits high on historically good fruit ground. That is to say, fruit trees have supplied stable habitat in this location for decades. Continuity is meaningful given the speed of land conservation in Northwest Arkansas — urban development to the west and agricultural consolidation to the east. Our complicated landscape inherently allows food, water, and nesting areas to exist alongside nectar and pollen sources — ideal accommodation for wild pollinators who must work and live within close range.
We rely on nature
As a very small-scale orchard, we choose to farm within the context of a biodiverse environment. That is to say, we depend on the ecosystem services nature provides. Accordingly, we strictly limit inputs to balance both support of a fruit crop with protection of our surroundings. By tolerating fruit damage and loss, we can lower our management intensity. By maintaining a number of varied habitats throughout our farm, we can offer connective corridors and refuge.