Forgive visitors to David and Lou Ellen Honeycutt’s homestead at Monett if they wonder what all the buzz is about.
The 80-year-old retired dentist and his wife have been working in partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to make their property a haven for pollinators, whether they buzz or silently flutter.
Honeycutt was raised on a dairy farm, and he won the FFA Dairy Efficiency Production award as a teenager in Arkansas. His dental career brought him and Lou Ellen to Monett in 1971, and they purchased their current land in 1976, where they built their home and have lived since 1978.
“At first we raised steers on the property,” he says. “I spent that whole first winter feeding those cows and made no money.”
Honeycutt switched to selling hay, and later worked out a deal with a local farmer that allowed the farmer to hay the land as long as he took good care of it.
“You can raise crops and not destroy the land, I’m convinced,” he says. “But you have to use due care. If you abuse it, it will be gone.”
Honeycutt’s interest in expanding prairie grass plantings on his farm led him to the USDA Service Center, where he met NRCS Resource Conservationist Rita Mueller-Williams.
“I went to USDA to get some advice and I ended up talking to Rita,” he says. “She’s been a great asset and has gotten to be a good friend.”
For her part, Mueller-Williams says being able to assist landowners like Honeycutt is an enjoyable aspect to her job.
“It’s always nice to work with landowners who have a genuine interest in improving the natural resources on their land,” she says.
Mueller-Williams and MDC Private Land Conservationist Rick Rath advised Honeycutt to consider wildflowers and other pollination plantings. He was approved for USDA financial assistance in 2015, and the farm now includes about 60 acres of pollinator habitat. The pollinator habitat stands out like an island in a sea of grazed pastures which dominate the landscape.
“When you step onto a place like (Honeycutt’s), it’s just alive with insects.” Rath says. “If you go across the fence where it’s just fescue, there’s nothing there. Places like this provide a lot of benefit.”
According to USDA, 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. Scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects. The pollinator habitat also benefits a wide variety of wildlife. Honeycutt says that since he established the pollinator plots, he has observed an increase in deer, quail, turkeys and grassland birds. He is most pleased about the return of quail to the farm.
“When I first moved out here, there were several quail, but over the years they just died out and were gone,” Honeycutt says. “After one year of doing this, there are several more.”
Honeycutt says maintaining the pollinator plantings isn’t difficult. He does some spraying, brush hogging and periodic burns. But mostly, he and Lou Ellen enjoy the scenery – and the buzz.