Managed honey bee populations, America’s most important managed pollinator, are declining. Their decreased availability and reduced vigor have become a concern of scientists and farmers, since bees are needed to pollinate many fruit and vegetable crops. There are more than 3,500 species of solitary bees in North America, and recent research has shown that native bees can play a major role in the pollination of some agricultural crops. Native Bees will often visit flowers in wet or cold conditions, when honey bees remain in the hive. Even crops that use managed honey bees as their main pollinators can increase yield by five-fold when they interact with native bees.
Farming for Native Bees is a 4-year project (2007-2010) that is surveying native bees associated with cucurbit/mixed organic crops in Delaware and will use this data to make recommendations for management practices that will enhance pollinator populations.
The findings, however, will benefit all farmers producing pollinator-dependant crops.
More than 120 commercial crops are dependent upon insect
pollination. Most growers rely on colonies of the honey bee, Apis mellifera,
for pollination services. Beekeeper-managed colonies are necessary for
commercial yields. Many of these colonies have been affected by mites and
diseases, resulting in weaker colonies and fewer beekeepers able to supply growers with quality pollination colonies. The “crisis” in the pollination of
both cultivated crops and native vegetation has attracted national attention.
The Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA), University of Delaware
Cooperative Extension, and a number of Delaware growers are cooperating
in a project, “Farming for Native Pollinators” that aims to develop solutions
to this crisis for Delaware’s growers.
Cucurbit crops are an important segment of Delaware agriculture, with
revenue estimated between $16-$21 million/year. Cucurbits (e.g. pumpkins,
cucumbers, and melons) are highly dependent upon insect pollination.
Honey bee colonies supply the majority of these crops’ pollination needs,
although native bees also play a significant role in pollination. Therefore,
maintaining cucurbits as a viable segment for Delaware agriculture requires
maintaining adequate populations of both honey bees and native bees.
While growers may be aware of honey bee problems, many are unaware of
the role that non-managed, wild bee species play in pollination needs.
Furthermore, they are not generally aware of on-farm management practices
that can enhance native pollinator populations.
During 2006, the Delaware Department of Agriculture is funding a
baseline survey of native bees in cucurbits. Over the following 2 years,
additional surveys will be conducted, and life history information developed
for the native bees. In 2008, interested farmers will be encouraged to
implement buffer strip and field margin recommendations that will favor
native bees. In 2009, refined recommendations will be proposed for
incorporation into CREP and WHIP programs and a booklet and series of
educational information on native bee management will be developed.
Project results will be presented at grower workshops and field days.
Recommendations will also be posted to Cooperative Extension and DDA
Lister Acres is playing a vital role in the “Farming for Native Pollinators”
project by serving as a both a test and survey site. A special “Pollinator Mix”
of native grass and flower seeds was developed and planted on the farm. The
mix is designed to provide season-long pollen and nectar resources for bees and
other important pollinators, such as butterflies. The suitability of the Pollinator
Mix will be evaluated as part of the project. Through special displays in its
agritourism program, Lister Acres is also providing an important educational
link to the general public. The displays, including a butterfly garden and insect
exhibits, will highlight the importance of Delaware’s agricultural lands as
habitats for native bees and butterflies.
For Additional Information Contact:
Faith Kuehn, Plant Industries Administrator
Delaware Department of Agriculture
2320 South DuPont Highway
Dover, Delaware 19901
Ph: (302) 698-4587