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8/21/2018 9:21 am  #1

Finding Alternate Pollinators

Honeybees Are Hurting. What Else Can Pollinate Our Food?

The dominant pollinator is under siege, straining the business of farming. Now growers are turning to alternative species to help their crops.

OMAK, Wash. — Jim Freese grows apples, pears and cherries on 45 acres in the north-central part of this state, on sagebrush-studded land his grandfather bought in 1910.

Walking among trees laden with shiny red cherries, Mr. Freese recalled that four years ago his trees were not producing well and his farm was financially struggling. Like many growers, he had been relying on rented honeybees to pollinate his cherry trees every spring, along with wild bees and other insects.

But that year, spring was expected to be cool. “Honeybees will just sit in the hive in cooler weather,” Mr. Freese said. He needed a way to ensure more flowers would develop into fruit than in the past.

At a horticulture meeting, he learned that blue orchard bees — a native species that doesn’t make honey or live in hives — could be used to supplement honeybee pollination. Blue orchard bees will fly at cooler temperatures.

Mr. Freese bought 12,000 cocoons and set them in his orchard to emerge when the trees bloomed. His investment paid off. “We doubled our cherry production from any previous record year,” he said.

His wife, Sandee Freese, said: “The little bees have been a godsend.”

The Freese orchard is one of many commercial agricultural operations around the United States considering pollination with alternative bee species now that the honeybee is beset by problems.

The honeybee, Apis mellifera, has been the dominant pollinator for decades but now is threatened by pesticides, pathogens, parasites and poor nutrition. Last year, beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 40 percent of their managed honeybee colonies, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit that advises beekeepers.

Some years that number is even higher, according to Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and author of several books on bees.

“Is there another agricultural enterprise that accepts an annual loss of 40 to 45 percent of its animals?” he asked.

These losses drive up prices for farmers who rent honeybees to pollinate their crops, straining their businesses. Honeybee prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004, even as demand for pollination services is growing.

One-third of our food — including almonds, apples, blueberries, pears and tomatoes — must be pollinated in order to grow. Some scientists warn of risks to agricultural food supplies if there aren’t enough pollinators.

As honeybee prices continue to rise, farmers are turning to other types of bees — like the blue orchard bee, the bumblebee and alfalfa leafcutter — that have proven to be effective pollinators of some crops in certain settings.

“It’s a question of having the right bee at the right time,” said Theresa Pitts-Singer, a research entomologist at the Department of Agriculture’s Logan Bee Lab.

Dr. Pitts-Singer and researchers across the country have been studying how so-called integrated crop pollination — or combinations of varying bee species — can help growers ensure reliable pollination.
The Integrated Crop Pollination Project, a public-private partnership funded by the Department of Agriculture, has explored habitat enhancement for wild bees, improving farm management practices, and the use of diverse or “alternative” bee species.

Of the thousands of species of bees in North America, just four other than the honeybee are already used or almost ready for use on a commercial scale in the United States, according to a review published last year in Basic and Applied Ecology. (Wild bees also make important contributions to crop pollination.)

The bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, can be an effective alternative to honeybees for pollinating watermelons and lowbush blueberries. The alfalfa leafcutter bee, Megachile rotundata, is responsible for pollinating most of the alfalfa grown for seed production.

The ground-nesting alkali bee, Nomia melanderi, also pollinates alfalfa, and the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, is effective for tree fruits and nuts.

Last edited by Goose (8/21/2018 9:22 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

8/21/2018 1:32 pm  #2

Re: Finding Alternate Pollinators

Every day I see hummingbirds and swallowtail butterfiles working the salvia and petunias in my deck planters.

Life is an Orthros.

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