It Behooves Blueberry Growers To Protect Pollinators

Managed bee hive boxes around a blueberry field
Place managed hives adjacent to a blooming blueberry crop.
Photo by Jason Deering

Blueberry production is on the rise in Florida, from the number of acres in production to the number of new operations and increased popularity in specialty operations like organic and U-Pick farms.

Like many crops in Florida, blueberries are dependent on bee-pollination to set fruit. It is really very simple — the more bees that visit a flower, the more pollen grains that will be transferred from the male stamen to the female, resulting in more fertilized ovules. This equals a larger, more even ripening fruit and demonstrates why pollination is so critical for the grower to understand and manage.

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are more adept to buzz pollination, a vibrating act performed by bumble bee species and other native pollinators that literally shakes the pollen from the flower. However, the availability and abundance of these native pollinators are often not enough to support pollination needs for larger or commercial operations. This is where managed pollinators come into the picture.

Management Matters

Most growers rent managed honey bee colonies for pollination services during the bloom period. The recommended stocking rate is two to five hives per acre, and with upwards of 50,000 bees per hive, it is no question that honey bees can get the job done. The bloom window is relatively short, with abundant flowers that require pollination within approximately three days after opening. However, it is important that honey bees be placed onto the site only after target crop reaches 5% to 10% bloom.

Honey bees forage on the closest, most abundant forage source until it is exhausted. Placing honey bees before the target bloom will leave the bees foraging on the next best source and not the blueberries, even if they are open. Communication between the grower and the beekeeper is crucial to ensure sure hives are ready and placed on site at the correct time relative to bloom.

The time period that honey bees are on site for pollination can pose a number of other challenges beyond timing of hive placement for both the beekeeper and the grower. Blueberry growers face the challenges of pollination itself: bad weather, wind, rain, and sudden blooms can all interfere with bees being available during that crucial bloom time. This is on top of fluctuating market prices and the need to manage pest pressures from insects, mites, and diseases that are often controlled using pesticides, which can pose risks to honey bees and other pollinators. Because both bee pollination and insect control are essential to the success of blueberry production, it is important that both beekeepers and growers work together to reduce these risks.

Safety First

A 2016 survey from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) shows many growers are proactively taking steps to ensure honey bees on site are safe. That’s good news for native pollinators, too, as there are up to 20 different species assist with blueberry pollination in Florida. There are many things that can be done to reduce the risk of pesticides to bees while on crop. Many growers adjust the timing of pesticide applications to when bees are not foraging, i.e. after dusk; even when not indicated by label language. Growers can choose products that have less toxic active ingredients or have less bee-restrictive language on the label. Other practices include reducing the overall number of sprays during bloom or performing certain treatments prior to bloom where possible.

These practices, and more importantly their communication and agreement between the beekeeper and the grower, are really what ensures a safe pollination season for bees and blueberries. Many of these operations are utilizing pollination contracts or agreements. These may include details like hive strength, timing of hive placement, pesticide use, and method of contact if any emergency applications may become necessary (liabilities, costs, feeding etc.).

Food For Thought

Although counterintuitive to some, honey bees can and should be supplemented with sugar syrup (a nectar substitute) during pollination. Bees collect an insignificant amount of nectar from blueberries as they mainly gather pollen. Honey bee hives need both nectar and pollen to keep producing more bees, and more bees equals more pollination. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to discuss feeding supplements with contracted beekeepers.

Other factors to consider may include where within the field the hives are placed; it is important to keep them away from irrigation nozzles, out of the way of turning equipment, clear from roadways and foot traffic, clearly marked for all farmworkers, in areas not subject to drift, and not in the middle of the rows. Honey bee foraging behavior allows the hives to be placed adjacent to the blooming crop, up to 500 yards away.

Lastly, it has become more and more common to see growers reserve, plant, or install some type of native forage on their property. Supplying abundant and diverse forage will not only supplement honey bees and build stronger colonies, but it supports the nesting of native bees year after year.

Florida has a wealth of knowledgeable blueberry growers, beekeepers, UF/IFAS researchers, FDACS staff, and programs like Integrated Crop Pollination that are working together to build a stronger blueberry industry. From communicating information and interpreting pollination needs to reducing pesticide risks and providing diverse native forage, there are many ways Florida growers are taking the lead to ensure that both the bees and the blueberries are getting the protection they need.

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Berries Stories
Berries
June 20, 2017
Don’t Be Fooled By Rust in Your Brambles
Knowing whether you have orange rust disease or cane leaf rust is important for proper control methods. Read More
Apples & Pears
June 19, 2017
Bee-ware: New Resources Released for National Pollinator Week
New videos, webinars available during week-long observance. Read More
Harvest CROO Robotics mobile strawberry picking platform
Berries
June 13, 2017
Robotic Strawberry Picker Ramping up for Rollout
Florida-based agtech company officially unveils autonomous mobile platform. Read More
Berries
June 10, 2017
Orange Rust Management Tips for Brambles
Disease is on the rise this season and can affect any propagated plant material. Read More
Berries
May 30, 2017
Exploring Biodegradable Plastic Mulches in Red Raspberry
As tissue culture plugs increase in popularity, growers are seeking ways to get these planting off to a good start. Read More
Berries
May 26, 2017
Jury Sides with University in Strawberry Breeding Lawsuit
Decision says former breeders infringed on UC patents to develop material for corporate breeding firm. Read More
Berries
May 23, 2017
Researchers Examining Potential for Longer Berry Season in Northeast
Team at Penn State University using low and high tunnels and plastic coverings to extend raspberry and strawberry seasons. Read More
Berries
May 15, 2017
Grower Comments on Pyrethroids Being Sought by EPA
Comment period on popular class of insecticides opens today. Read More
Alto Straughn receives distinguished alumnus award from UF President Kent Fuchs
Berries
May 4, 2017
Florida Farming Pioneer Still Making the Honor Roll
Alto Straughn presented with University of Florida’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. Read More
Berries
May 2, 2017
Southeastern Strawberry Growers Advised to Prepare for Disease Pressure
Recent rain is conducive to the main strawberry fruit rot diseases, according to the chief of the Southern Region IPM Center. Read More
Berries
April 26, 2017
Tips To Manage Winter-Damaged Blueberries
While low-chill varieties in Southern states may have experienced freeze damage for the second year in a row, giving those plants extra care will help ensure a good start to the 2018 growing season. Read More
The Hill family of Southern Hill Farms in Florida
Berries
April 13, 2017
Florida Farming Family Staying on Top of the Blueberry Game
The Hill family of Southern Hill Farms continues to up their efforts to diversify business and stay out ahead of a competitive market. Read More
Berries
April 10, 2017
North Carolina Blueberry Crop Still Kicking
Thanks to pruning cuts and a diverse mix of cultivars, the majority of the crop survived a series of March freezes. Read More
Closeup of Florida blueberries
Berries
April 6, 2017
Study Shows Bumblebees Can Boost Blueberry Yield Big Time
UF/IFAS researchers find placing hives of the distinct pollinator in the field pumps up output by 70%. Read More
Berries
March 30, 2017
Chateau Herbicide SW Now Registered for Use in Citrus, Caneberries
Broad spectrum preemergent herbicide to control broadleaf and grasses. Read More
The Latest
Berries
July 2, 2017
Southern Highbush Berries Have Turned th…
Berry industry revolutionized thanks to the introduction of low-chill varieties. Read More
Berries
July 1, 2017
Water is a Must for Berry Crops
As the adage goes, “ability is availability” as so it goes for water. Read More
Berries
June 27, 2017
Study Zeroes in on Sweet Spot for Florid…
Taste test proves farmers, marketers, and parents should be cognizant of kids’ consumer clout. Read More
Berries
June 20, 2017
Don’t Be Fooled By Rust in Your Brambles
Knowing whether you have orange rust disease or cane leaf rust is important for proper control methods. Read More
Apples & Pears
June 19, 2017
Bee-ware: New Resources Released for Nat…
New videos, webinars available during week-long observance. Read More
Berries
June 13, 2017
Robotic Strawberry Picker Ramping up for…
Florida-based agtech company officially unveils autonomous mobile platform. Read More
Berries
June 10, 2017
Orange Rust Management Tips for Brambles
Disease is on the rise this season and can affect any propagated plant material. Read More
Berries
May 30, 2017
Exploring Biodegradable Plastic Mulches …
As tissue culture plugs increase in popularity, growers are seeking ways to get these planting off to a good start. Read More
Berries
May 26, 2017
Jury Sides with University in Strawberry…
Decision says former breeders infringed on UC patents to develop material for corporate breeding firm. Read More
Berries
May 23, 2017
Researchers Examining Potential for Long…
Team at Penn State University using low and high tunnels and plastic coverings to extend raspberry and strawberry seasons. Read More
Berries
May 15, 2017
Grower Comments on Pyrethroids Being Sou…
Comment period on popular class of insecticides opens today. Read More
Berries
May 4, 2017
Florida Farming Pioneer Still Making the…
Alto Straughn presented with University of Florida’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. Read More
Berries
May 2, 2017
Southeastern Strawberry Growers Advised …
Recent rain is conducive to the main strawberry fruit rot diseases, according to the chief of the Southern Region IPM Center. Read More
Berries
April 26, 2017
Tips To Manage Winter-Damaged Blueberrie…
While low-chill varieties in Southern states may have experienced freeze damage for the second year in a row, giving those plants extra care will help ensure a good start to the 2018 growing season. Read More
Berries
April 13, 2017
Florida Farming Family Staying on Top of…
The Hill family of Southern Hill Farms continues to up their efforts to diversify business and stay out ahead of a competitive market. Read More
Berries
April 10, 2017
North Carolina Blueberry Crop Still Kick…
Thanks to pruning cuts and a diverse mix of cultivars, the majority of the crop survived a series of March freezes. Read More
Berries
April 6, 2017
Study Shows Bumblebees Can Boost Blueber…
UF/IFAS researchers find placing hives of the distinct pollinator in the field pumps up output by 70%. Read More
Berries
March 30, 2017
Chateau Herbicide SW Now Registered for …
Broad spectrum preemergent herbicide to control broadleaf and grasses. Read More