Good Fruit Grower

March 15

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 23 of 47

24 MARCH 15, 2016 Good Fruit Grower P ollination comes with problems. Bloom dates don't overlap, honeybee colonies fail, weather doesn't cooperate. The list goes on. Matt Whiting foresees a day when none of that matters. "What if I were to tell you now that everything you've heard … wouldn't be an issue any longer? No problems with pollinizers, no problems with pollinators," Whiting said to growers at the December Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting in Yakima, Washing- ton. "That in a nutshell is the vision that we have here." After two years of experimenting, the stone fruit phys- iologist and his collaborators believe they have devel- oped an effective artifi cial pollination system that uses an electrostatic sprayer to apply a suspension of pollen to fl owering fruit trees. Welcome to Whiting's vision of farming without bees. About the completed project Whiting, with Washington State University, started the project in 2014, when he sprayed an existing slurry of pollen and other compounds available through pollen companies. In 2015, he and some engineering faculty at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center tried out their own homemade sus- pension, using a sucrose agent that kept pollen viable for one hour. Through the spring of 2015, Whiting ran trials in cherry, pear and apple orchards around the state. In each one, using his spray as a supplement to bees, he increased pollen density per stigma compared to natural pollination, sometimes threefold. Fruit set improved anywhere from 10 percent to 200 percent when used to supplement bees. To test his pollen agent by itself in a controlled envi- ronment, he covered several tree branches with nets to keep the bees out. In each of those trials, his sprays worked, but fell well short of natural pollination. So, he's a long way from putting bees out of work. Whiting also tinkered with different rates and realized that increasing the pollen per acre boosted fruit set only to a point. After that, it didn't seem to matter how much he used, he said, but he wants to further study rates, tim- ing and concentrations. Grower cred Whiting struggled for years to have his work taken seriously. About fi ve years ago, grant programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture called his proposals "too science fi ctiony," he said. However, his experiments in 2014 and 2015 — funded by a $61,209 grant from the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission — have given him credibility, especially among growers, he said. Centerpiece Researchers make promising progress on effective artifi cial pollination system. by Ross Courtney photos by TJ Mullinax No bees, but a lot of BUZZ Juan Farias drives a spray rig outfi tted with test equipment for the WSU cherry horticulturist Matt Whiting shows one of several netted cherry limbs used for a mechanical pollination trial. The netting prevents natural pollination. PLAY Learn more about the 2015 trials and watch this pollination system in action. Go to

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Good Fruit Grower - March 15