Bee Biodiversity Gives Farmers More Blueberries
Farmers often rely on honeybees to help their crops grow. And scientists have been concerned about the decline of honeybees in recent years. But a new study shows that honeybees are not the only important pollinators out there.
A recent study published by North Carolina State University was conducted on bees and blueberries. Dr. David Tarpy, a professor of entomology at the university and co-author of the research paper, says having different bee species pollinating a blueberry crop can give the farmer more pounds of blueberries per acre.
“There are also many native bee species that are just naturally occurring in the environment and help compliment and augment that pollination. These are all really critical for helping kind of fill in the gap to complete the pollination within those fields,” says Tarpy.
There are five different bee species in North Carolina. The study found that farmers can have both larger blueberries and more of them if they have all five species pollinating their crop.
For example, Tarpy says the study indicates that if you have two bee species pollinating your blueberry crops, a farmer could yield $300 per acre. But if you have three species, the amount could be around $600 per acre.
Chris Wiley owns a blueberry farm just outside of Charlotte. In the past, he has tried renting honeybees from bee keepers. But this year he noticed more bumblebees pollinating his crops. He has seen the impact of having more than one bee pollinator on his farm. “After a few years, I started to notice that the honeybees will bypass the blueberries and go for the Bradford pears," he says. "But the pollinator is the bumblebee. Thousands of bumblebees will be pollinating those blueberry blooms.”
Meanwhile, Wiley says he will plant next season’s blueberries in staggered rows, so he can encourage more cross-pollination and more bee activity. He is also considering adding more plants that will attract different bee species.
Dr. Tarpy worked with Shelley Rogers and Dr. Hannah Burrack on this study. Shelly Rogers is an undergraduate student at NC State University, and Dr. Burrack is an associate professor of entomology at the university.
*Celia Spell is an intern at WFDD and a senior at Wake Forest University.