The Blue Orchard Bee recently came to our attention thanks to Natalie Boyle. However, it seems the species has some competition as potential saviors of the farming industry. This article by Catherine M. Allchin, Honeybees Are Hurting. What Else Can Pollinate Our Food?, illustrates how…
…The dominant pollinator is under siege, straining the business of farming. Now growers are turning to alternative species to help their crops.
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.”…
…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…
Read the entire article here.