Benefits of Bee Pollination in Broad-acre Crops

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Video Transcript

It’s a pretty well known fact that a majority of modern day crops require some pollination to produce a seed.

Cross Pollination from Bees and Insects

Whilst a lot of the crops like canola, beans and lentils can produce adequate yields without pollination or added pollination from insects. We know that cross pollination, where we use insects to take pollen from one plant to another, will increase yield and seed set.

It happens a lot in horticulture, particularly in crops like almonds and apples and cherries. So we’ve taken that information we know from these other horticultural crops and started applying them into the broad-acre crops. So, we’ve been mainly working in beans but it’s very well documented in scientific circles that canola will also benefit significantly, around thirty percent, from the addition of honey bees into crops that have adequate densities and the CSIRO project that we’ve been working with has found that up to 30% yield gain from using honey bees in beans.

The work we’ve done so far has not shown any significant yield increases in other crops like lentils chickpeas, and peas although in some years we have seen a benefit, but we think that there’s other limiting factors involved. In lupins there is a documented yield increase in WA of up to about 15%.

Beehive Densities for Optimal Pollination

In our original research work we did, we were using beehive densities of around two and a half hives per hectare, and we were finding that that was providing us with optimal pollination. In the years we did the trials we came across some significantly dry springs which made moisture the limiting factor in crop yield not pollination.

So, we found that whilst we were still increasing the yield, we were able to back the hive density off to a more manageable level. Where we’ve come to our commercial arrangements now where we’re pollinating at one hive per hectare and charging around half the price we were originally at thirty five dollars a hive now. Our current commercial arrangements are that we place one hive per hectare, and we’re charging $35 per hive, but we’re also finding that placement’s very critical.

Increase Yield By Spreading Beehives Throughout the Crop

Where we have paddocks adjacent to canola, for instance, we need to place hives at the other end of the paddock because canola is more preferable for the bees. We are also finding that spreading the hives throughout the crop is much more beneficial and critical to achieving the more even yield increases across the paddock compared to placing them only in a single drop. We’re seeing even in dry springs or dry years where traditionally beans would really struggle for yield, we’re still seeing that we’re able to maintain those yield increases and maintain the average yield across the paddock.

From a whole of industry perspective, the impact of the pollination research that’s been conducted on the York Peninsula and lower Lower and mid north regions over the last few years in beans and other crops is meant that farmers are more aware of the importance of looking after some of those pollinating insects and as a result of that, practicing integrated pest management practices more regularly.

Farmers Aware of Importance of Pollinating Insects

The benefits of a research program like this mean that farmers are now more aware of the importance of pollinating insects in their crop production systems. Those that haven’t weaned themselves off are still in the dependency phase and still require quite regular applications of pesticide.

Beneficials build up very quickly in the crop and the reliance and need for pesticides becomes reduced quite rapidly. In my mind as an adviser working with many farm businesses across the region, that integrated pest management really does work. growers that stop using pesticide or reduce the pesticide use in the environment don’t need to apply the pesticides because the beneficials do the job for us.

Danny LeFeuvre from Australian Bee Services and Bill Long from Ag Consulting Co. discuss the benefits of bee pollination in broad-acre crops and how this has impacted on farmer attitudes to pest management.

Canola and bean yields have been increased by 30% whilst lupin yields have been increased by 15%. Understanding the value of bees and other pollinating insects has led to the introduction of integrated pest management practices on farms, reducing the use of pesticides.

This work has been supported by the Yorke Peninsula Alkaline Soils Group with funding from Caring for Our Country and GRDC. This is another video supported by the Social Media in Agriculture project funded by Australian Government’s Caring for our Country initiative.

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