While it is common knowledge fruit crops, such as blueberries, need pollinators to produce, the type of pollinator can make a big difference between what is an average harvest versus what could be an all-out bounty. According to a new study conducted by UF/IFAS researchers, bumblebees can boost blueberry yield by 70%.
After caging bumblebee hives with a planting of southern highbush selections, researchers found that 70% of the flowers produced blueberries, while less than 10% of those without bumblebee hives produced fruit. This is helpful information for blueberry growers and confirmation for those who already employ bumblebees on their farms, said Joshua Campbell, a Post-Doctoral Researcher in the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department and co-author of the new study published in the journal Environmental Entomology.
UF/IFAS researchers conducted the experiment on a large commercial blueberry farm in North Florida and found good results.
The Sunshine State only has five bumblebee species. But most are fairly common in Central and North Florida, Campbell said. Only one of these – the type used in the UF/IFAS research – can be managed and utilized to pollinate.
In order to obtain a good commercial yield, a grower would need to augment the bumblebee population by placing hives within their fields, Campbell said.
The biggest chunk of Florida’s blueberry crop is grown in Alachua, Lake, Marion, Putnam, and Sumter counties, an area that accounts for about 40% of the state blueberry acreage. Next in acreage is an area that includes Hernando, Hillsborough, Orange, Pasco, and Polk counties.