Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bees Enhance Fruit and Vegetable Harvests

About 35 percent of the food that we eat is the direct result of insect pollination. To many producers, this process is an integral part of the production cycle.

Historically, this service has been optimized through the use of managed European honeybees. With a decline in managed hives for rent, producers are encouraging habitat establishment for native bees as a means to help meet their yield goals. By at least partly relying upon indigenous species of insects to provide pollinator service, farmers of insect-pollinated crops are less vulnerable to insufficient yields.

Native pollinators work differently than honeybees. Unlike honeybees, native bees are undeterred by rain, cold weather and overcast conditions. This is particularly important for fruit growers whose crops flower in the spring.

Native bees generally have the ability to access flowers that honeybees pass by.  This, along with native bee’s aptitude to make honeybees more effective by disrupting their flight patterns, points to their ability to add economic value by enhancing pollination and yield.

Fortunately, establishing native pollinator habitat is quite simple. A quick assessment of the farm may reveal that these habitats already exist; typically along fence rows, under power lines and along stream banks.

By simply leaving these areas alone, a farmer can foster the growth of native insect populations. Many conservation practices already installed on the farm can easily be modified to include native forbs to attract native insect populations.

Farming for Bees,” offered by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, is available at no charge.  The publication provides information on the value of native pollinators in agriculture and how to enhance native pollinator populations.
(Western bumble bee picture by Derrick Ditchburn)
(by Marlin Bates, MU Extension Horticulturalist, West Central MO)

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