Home delivery pollen is sweet for honey bees

SCIENTISTS are investigating the use of mobile pollinator units to improve cross-pollination in apple orchards with nets in a new experiment carried out by Hort Innovation in partnership with the University of Adelaide.

For the past 14 months, scientists have worked with apple growers in the Adelaide Hills on the project that aims to solve the challenges of using honeybees to cross-pollinate in covert environments.

The experiment involved placing potted pollinator trees on top of a slow moving vehicle. The results show that honey bees use the trees as a “bridge” to cross between rows in the orchard, inadvertently picking up the correct pollen needed for cross-pollination.

Ashley Zamek, research and development manager at Hort Innovation, said the use of protected crops is on the rise in Australia because it allows growers to have more control over the growing environment. Hence, this research has never been more important.

“This research, done under nets in apple orchards, has shown that honeybees don’t move as far and effectively as they do in the field,” she said.

“For apple production, pollen deposits from different types of flowers are required. Reduced honeybee activity means less pollen release, which in turn reduces fruit set and quality. “

Ms. Zamek said: “This research is exciting because it could pave the way for the effective use of motorized or robotic pollinator units in the future alongside managed honeybees.”

The University of Adelaide project leader, Dr. Katja Hogendoorn said the results from the first year of data collected through the study were encouraging, but research is still in its infancy and further testing is needed to assess the effects on fruit set.

“Once the concept is proven, we will refine it further by examining the number of pollinator trees required for optimal pollination and the number of pollinator units needed in the orchard,” said Dr. Hogendoorn.

This project, Novel Technologies and Techniques for Optimizing Pollination in Sheltered Cultivation Environments, is being carried out by Hort Innovation with funding from the Australian Department of Agriculture and Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries, the University of Tasmania, Plant and Food Research, and the University of New England are also involved in the three-year research, which is expected to be completed in March 2023.

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