Good Fruit Grower

March 15

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Pollination Integrated Crop Pollination H oneybees have probably the largest and most loyal following of any insects in the animal kingdom. Honey is considered the most natural and purest sweetener, beeswax the only proper substance for candles in churches, and the bees' work as pollinators is lauded as so essential, we'd all starve without their services. When it comes to likeable insects, even Monarch butterflies have to take a back seat to honeybees. But in recent years, these bees have been sorely kicked about by viruses and diseases, parasitic mites, and mysterious syndromes like colony collapse disorder. These maladies have spawned some heretical thoughts, like this one: Hey, there were flowering plants in America long before the Europeans brought honeybees over here, and they set seeds and survived from the work of wild bees. Maybe honeybees are not so essential after all. That may be the case in some crop situations, but for many intensively by Richard Lehnert managed crops, there are millions of flowers to visit per acre. So, what is a grower to do when deciding on whether to rely on wild bees or bring in honeybees? The answer is an integrated approach—encouraging native bees and giving honeybees the help they need to prosper. Last October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Research Initiative awarded $1.6 million for the first year of a five-year research and extension project on Integrated Crop Pollination. The idea is to focus on developing economical strategies to make sure crops get pollinated reliably each year, whether it takes honeybees, wild bees, or alternative managed bees like bumblebees and mason bees, or a combination of approaches. The project will be led by Michigan State University and headed by extension entomologist Dr. Rufus Isaacs. It will include collaborators from all over the country—Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Utah, Vermont, Illinois, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. "Researchers in many of these states and provinces have been studying the problem independently for five years and more, but now it's under one roof and focused on some common goals," Isaacs said. Plantings of native wildflowers can The goals are to develop region- and attract and support wild bees and crop-specific management approaches to honeybees. Plantings of a mix of diversify pollination sources and mainspecies that bloom after the crop tain consistent crop yields. to provide an ongoing source of They will examine adding habitat for pollen and nectar, have shown bees to provide them with food when benefit in some crop systems. crops are not in bloom. The extension photo by brett blaauw A new project's focus is effective pollination by all means necessary. 26 March 15, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER This cherry orchard in bloom highlights how many farms provide rich resources for bees during flowering, but little else for bees to visit after flowering is done. This limits the ability of wild bees to build their populations.

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