Bees and agriculture have a long relationship which is often a double-edged sword. On the one hand, bee pollination is essential for many food and non-food crops and these provide food resources for bees. On the other hand, intense agriculture can pose risks to pollinators by habitat loss and pesticide use.
Why are bees important for agriculture?
About 75% of globally important crops depend on pollination services. According to the IPBES assessment on pollinators, pollination is responsible for an additional yield of 9%.
It’s not only quantity: bee pollination improves also the quality of fruit. They are heavier, have less malformations and have a longer shelf-life. In some crops, the nutrient content is higher after bee pollination.
Pollinator-dependent crops are increasing in the EU and worldwide. Therefore, the vulnerability of production if pollination fails increases, too.
Can’t we just rely on managed bees like honey bees for pollination?
This wouldn’t be wise. Research shows that honey bees and non-managed bees best act together for optimal pollination results. In addition, a more diverse pollinator community helps to stabilize the crop pollination services. For instance, apples are highly dependent on pollination. During their flowering time, however, temperatures can still be quite cool. Honey bees don’t fly that much under these conditions. Bumblebees and solitary bees resist better on cold temperatures and then do the job. Therefore, crop pollination depends on a diverse pollinator community.
What are the risks for bees in agricultural landscape?
In the public perception, pesticides are the main risk for bees. Especially neonicotinoids and other insecticides are on focus. New, more detailed data requirements in the registration process acknowledge the complexity of bee biology. Monitoring studies, which test realistic agronomic situations, meet the demand for better risk assessments and risk mitigation.
Habitat loss is a second consequence of intense agriculture. Hedges, field margins and other structures provide both foraging and nesting habitat for bees. These structures disappeared in many agricultural areas. Habitat loss is one of the major causes for bee decline.
How can we sustain bee pollination in agricultural areas?
A first step is habitat restoration or maintenance. The more hedges, field margins with wild flowers or nesting places, the more bee species and other pollinators live in an area. This “semi-natural habitat” stabilizes bee populations and, therefore, pollination services.
However, there is no “one-fits-all” solution. Depending on the crop, the agricultural realities and the existing bee fauna, these measures have to be carefully developed.
How can BeeSafe help in the bee and agriculture issue?
BeeSafe offers various solutions for sustaining bee populations and pollination services in agricultural areas. Data evaluation services find data gaps and possible exposure scenarios. Consultancy in planning and designing monitoring studies to cover these data gaps evaluate specific agronomic situations. BeeSafe also provides advice for risk mitigation measures, both applicable in farming practice as well as providing habitat for bees. Finally, BeeSafe is an information disseminator: by summarizing literature in comprehensive reports or by bee courses for industry, authorities and associations.