There is one thing that specialty crop growers know extremely well: If there isn’t adequate pollination, there won’t be a bumper crop. The wind often helps with this annual process, especially if the pollinating trees are placed upwind and not far from the trees to be pollinated. But mostly, we rely on pollinators — bees, birds, flies, and wasps.
The Integrated Crop Pollination Project
On the heels of several wake-up calls about the continuing decline in bee populations, the Integrated Crop Pollination Project was established in 2012 with funding from the USDA. This five-year research project aimed to look at the issue of pollinators from multiple viewpoints and communicate the results to growers:
- Performance of pollination strategies in various fruit crops
- Grower perceptions of different pollination strategies
- The economic impact of different strategies
The findings of the Integrated Crop Pollination Project were ultimately delivered via traditional and digital media, and are made available on the Project ICP website as a series of topic-specific guides and factsheets.
Key Strategies for Encouraging Pollinators
The Project ICP website offers a wealth of resources for growers and we encourage you to look around the website and explore their factsheets for yourself when you can. Here, we’ll share a few of the top highlights of this vitally important project.
Pollination Mapper BETA
Growers have multiple factors to take into account when trying any new strategy for attracting pollinators. It’s not simply a matter of throwing money at the wind and hoping that bees swarm back in return. Developed as part of the pollinator project, Pollination Mapper BETA was launched as a free online tool that helps growers of “almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, pumpkins, raspberries, and watermelons” predict and compare the effect of specific interventions on their pollinator population and crop yield. The tool takes into account the habitat available within 1.8 miles of the crop, crop type, geographical location of the farm, and management interventions, such as:
- Stocking rate of honeybee hives
- New pollinator plantings
- Wildflowers as well as hedgerows
At the time of writing, Pollination Mapper BETA draws on satellite data from 2014 (USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service) and was tested for accuracy in 2009, 2013, and 2016. While further updates depend on the availability of grant money, the current version can go a long way towards helping you make informed decisions about pollinator management on your farm.
Guide to Integrated Crop Pollination
For growers of specialty crops not covered by Pollination Mapper BETA or who would like a comprehensive overview of effective strategies, the Guide to Integrated Crop Pollination provides a complete handbook for encouraging pollinators.
Published in August 2017, at the end of the Integrated Crop Pollination Project grant period, this 52-page guide covers the three main kinds of bees used for pollination (honey bees, alternative managed bees, wild bees) and goes into detail about the practices that support crop pollination:
- Maintaining Bee Habitat
Just like people, bees need places to nest, feed, and drink clean water all year round. Identify the existing habitat around the edges of your farm or orchard and make these areas more friendly to bees by adding plants around your orchard — or even as an orchard understorey — that flower at different times of the year. Many species of wild pollinators nest on or near the ground, so leaving nesting material (leaves, clay, mud, bored-out wood) and occasionally disturbing the soil to keep it soft can help you retain or increase wild bee populations.
- Augmenting Bee Habitat
Research (provided in the guide) shows that providing bee habitat inside the farm can increase bee activity and the number of fruit that set in the orchard. Consider planting wildflower meadows and blooming hedgerows around the borders of orchards, along irrigation channels, and anywhere that uncropped land exists. When selecting the species for these plantings, native flowering plants provide an advantage in that they are already adapted to the local conditions. Several cost-sharing agencies exist to help buffer the cost of adding bee habitat to your farm.
- Horticultural Practices
Often, encouraging pollinators on the farm and in the orchard is simply a matter of understanding what they need and when they need it. A few of the strategies presented in this section of the guide include reducing the size of fields and orchards, planting wildflowers under fruit trees and/or between rows, using cover crops over the summer, and mowing down flowering groundcovers under rows before applying pesticides or herbicides.
- Pollinator-Friendly Pest Management
Chemical and biological controls are sometimes necessary to prevent disease and pest damage to crops. However, the effects of many of these dusts and sprays have a flow-on effect that hurts your pollinators. Before using pesticides, research and schedule preventative measures to deter pests and use only the least-toxic, most bee-friendly sprays available, and only use them when absolutely needed.
Throughout the year, make sure that pollinators have access to uncontaminated blooms, water, and nesting materials, and mow any floral understoreys before applying sprays to your crops. The approach to pest management that works to protect pollinators and crops is called Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management. Appendix 5 of the guide provides further information about this integrated approach.
Partner with Fruit Growers Supply Company
If you’d like to look into the Integrated Crop Pollination Project and begin to implement some strategies on your farm, Fruit Growers Supply has several resources that can help you protect your pollinators effectively. Firstly, we provide customized, crop-specific irrigation systems to support healthy, disease-free orchards and get new flowering hedgerows established. Secondly, we offer a vast inventory of bee-friendly orchard sprays, targeted spraying tools, and specialized orchard equipment in our full-service retail stores to help you manage pests with less damage to bees. Thirdly, we can conduct complimentary site visits to help you assess your unique options and opportunities. Contact Fruit Growers Supply to learn more about integrated management today.
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