Feb 24, 2012
Fruit, vegetable crops need honeybees

Every third mouthful of food we eat, directly or indirectly, depends on honeybee pollination, according to Donald Lam, a beekeeper and member of the Holland Area Beekeepers Association in Holland, Mich.

Lam gave a presentation during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO in December.

He said honeybee pollination is worth more than $14 billion annually to U.S. agriculture. Nearly $1 billion of that goes to Michigan, his home state.

For fruit, berry and nut crops, pollination can be a grower’s one real chance to increase yield, he said. Unfortunately, pests and diseases and certain agricultural practices have decimated wild pollinator populations to the point where they’re no longer reliable – making honeybees even more important.

The advantages of using honeybees include a large number of pollinators and control over their availability, timing and location, Lam said.

He said other factors can contribute to pollination failures, including poor climatic conditions during the pollination period, lack of suitable plant varieties or placement for cross-pollination, plant or bloom types that are unattractive or unusable, more attractive food sources, a shortage of natural or managed pollinators, and improper management of managed pollinators.

Vegetable and fruit crops that need to be pollinated include apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, muskmelons, nectarines, peaches, pears, pumpkins, watermelons, raspberries, plums and squash. Vegetable and fruit crops that need pollination to improve yield and quality include eggplant, grapes, peppers, okra and strawberries, according to Lam.
He listed the things growers should expect from beekeepers:

  • Strong, healthy hives
  • Bees delivered to and removed from the crop area in a mutually agreed upon time period
  • If asked, the beekeeper should open and demonstrate the strength of any hive selected by the grower
  • Place colonies in mutually selected locations
  • Leave all gates, etc., the way beekeepers found them; leave all sites in original condition

Lam also listed what beekeepers should expect from growers:

  • Early commitment concerning number of colonies, anticipated time period and length of need
  • Provide sites easily accessible for delivery, maintenance and removal of hives
  • Advisement of spray program and 48-hour notice of spraying so bees can be removed
  • Accepting liability for damage to the bees from spray, livestock or vandalism
  • Pay beekeeper in an agreed-upon time period and for any additional movement of colonies in or around the crop

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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