New Video: Managing Blue Orchard Bees for Almond Pollination

June 30, 2017 —

A growing number of specialty crop growers are using alternative managed bees, including the cavity-nesting blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria), to supplement or replace managed honey bee pollination of their crops. Researchers on the Integrated Crop Pollination project found that using blue orchard bees in addition to honey bees for California almond pollination improved almond nut set.

A new video released this week from Project ICP walks through the main steps to managing blue orchard bees (BOBs for short) for commercial-scale almond pollination.

Following a brief animated overview of the life cycle of the blue orchard bee, the video provides more detailed information on acquiring, managing, sanitizing, and propagating these mason bees.

The main steps to managing BOBs for almond pollination covered in the video:

  1. Purchase or trap wild BOBs
  2. Set up artificial nest materials
  3. Incubate cocoons until ready to release bees
  4. Ensure mud and additional forage are available
  5. Check on bees during active season
  6. Remove bees from the field
  7. Sanitize cocoons and nest materials
  8. Store over the dormant season

 

Visit the Integrated Crop Pollination Project’s Youtube page for playlists of videos about bees, pollination, and pollinator habitat. This video was produced on behalf of the Integrated Crop Pollination Project by Emily May and Katharina Ullmann (The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation) in collaboration with Project ICP research partners Theresa Pitts-Singer and Natalie Boyle (USDA-ARS, Pollinating Insects – Biology, Management and Systematics Research Unit, Logan, UT). This research is supported by the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Coordinated Agricultural Project (Award #2012-51181-20105).

New Video Series: Planting Flowering Habitat for Bees

For release March 13, 2017 —

Many specialty crop growers are looking to incorporate pollinator habitat plantings on their farms to support bees, crop pollination, and yields. A new video series produced by the Integrated Crop Pollination Project will guide farmers through the process of establishing new flowering habitat for bees, from selecting and preparing a good site to seeding and maintaining a successful, diverse, weed-free stand of wildflowers.

The first video in the series, “Pollinator Habitat 101,” provides background information on bee habitat requirements and highlights different options for integrating flowering plants on farms, including field border plantings, riparian buffers, filter strips, and flowering cover crops.

The second video in the series, “Five Steps to Success for Establishing Perennial Wildflower Plantings for Pollinators,” goes into more detail on the step-by-step process for establishing a bloom-rich, long-lived perennial wildflower strip or meadow. The video emphasizes the need for careful weed eradication before and after seeding to control highly competitive weed species and allow the native wildflower seeds to germinate and persist.

Future videos in this series will include more detailed overviews of different site preparation and seeding techniques. Visit the Integrated Crop Pollination Project’s Youtube page for playlists of videos about bees, pollination, and pollinator habitat. To learn more about planting wildflowers to support crop pollinators and other strategies to support bees and the pollination they provide, visit http://www.projecticp.org.

This research is supported by the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Coordinated Agricultural Project (Award #2012-51181-20105). These videos were produced on behalf of the Integrated Crop Pollination Project by Emily May and Katharina Ullmann (The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation).

Meet Nikki Rothwell, ICP Researcher and Cidermaker

Nikki Rothwell (at right) with Project ICP Michigan cherry researchers and field assistants in spring 2015. Photo: Karen Powers.
Nikki Rothwell (at right) with Project ICP Michigan cherry researchers and field assistants in spring 2015. Photo: Karen Powers.

Michigan State University AgBioResearch recently profiled Dr. Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center, Project ICP researcher working on cherry pollination, and award-winning cidermaker.

Dr. Rothwell has been at the MSU research center since 2004, and works closely with the local grower community to develop new areas of research and communicate research results. “I’m lucky that I got to come home to Michigan, and I get to work at a place like MSU that’s so supportive,” Rothwell said. “We have a strong backing from growers who are really invested in our research. We are in a position to assist them because of MSU’s commitment and the industry’s support, and as an extension professional, you can’t ask for more.”

In 2008, she opened Tandem Ciders with husband Dan Young. The cider business is growing steadily, and the tasting room – close to the research center – is open year-round. Learn more in Rothwell’s AgBioResearch feature story and Q&A here: http://agbioresearch.msu.edu/news/researcher_qa_nikki_rothwell.

Wild bees a key topic at MSU’s Pollination Forum

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Project ICP research partners and advisory board members gathered at Michigan State University for their 2016 Annual Meeting, and held a Pollination Forum for the general public on November 28th.

The Integrated Crop Pollination Project held a Pollination Forum for the general public at Michigan State University on November 28th. Speakers included keynote speaker Marla Spivak (University of Minnesota), as well as Project ICP research and outreach partners Theresa Pitts-Singer (USDA-ARS), Kelly Garbach (Point Blue Conservation Science), Mace Vaughan (The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation), and Rufus Isaacs (Michigan State University).

The forum was featured in this review in Michigan Farm News, “Wild bees key topic at MSU’s Pollination Forum.” Topics covered at the forum included the many issues facing bees and the solutions being developed to support crop pollination.

ICP Researcher Develops New Tools for Survey Data

Dr. Kelly Garbach (center) speaks with Mark Longstroth (Michigan State University Extension) about results from the 2015 ICP survey of growers' pollination practices.
Dr. Kelly Garbach (center) speaks with Mark Longstroth (MSU Extension) about results from the 2015 ICP survey of growers’ pollination practices. Photo: Emily May.

Project ICP researcher Kelly Garbach (Point Blue Conservation Science, formerly Loyola University-Chicago), in collaboration with Geoffrey Morgan (Carnegie Mellon University), has developed two publicly-available, open-source programs for anonymizing and cleaning up data from large surveys.

As part of the Integrated Crop Pollination project, Dr. Garbach conducted a multi-state survey of specialty crop growers in collaboration with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“Analyzing the survey data was an exciting challenge,” says Garbach. “We had to keep the data totally anonymous, while keeping enough detail to analyze key network connections.” These connections include information sharing in the agricultural community, including sharing information about pollinator management among growers, extension specialists, beekeepers and others.

White paper
Click thumbnail to read the new white paper!

Garbach and Morgan developed two open-source tools to tackle this challenge, called “Anonymizer” and “Linker.” Both are described in more depth in this new white paper.

See the quick start guides Garbach and Morgan developed for Anonymizer and Linker for an overview of what these computational tools can do and step-by-step instructions for using them. Click here to access the free downloadable program files from GitHub.

Read more about results from the Project ICP/USDA-NASS pollination survey in different US crops and regions in these blog posts:

Michigan blueberry survey

California almond survey

Florida blueberry survey

New Study Compares Blueberry Pollination in Different North American Growing Regions

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A honey bee visits a blueberry flower in Michigan. Photo: Emily May.

Highbush blueberries grown in different regions of North America are pollinated by markedly different communities of bees, with economically important pollination deficits in blueberries grown outside of the natural range of its wild relatives, according to a new study published today in PLOS ONE. The team of Project ICP researchers, led by Jason Gibbs at Michigan State University and Elizabeth Elle at Simon Fraser University, found that in Michigan, where highbush blueberries have been commercially grown for over seventy years, the bee community visiting blueberries had greater species richness and diversity than in British Columbia, where blueberry was introduced relatively recently.

The most important blueberry pollinators differed between the two surveyed regions: in British Columbia, the primary predictor of pollination service was the abundance of wild bumble bees, while in Michigan honey bee abundance was the main driver of blueberry pollination.

The yields from the surveyed commercial blueberry fields in Michigan were generally close to maximum estimated yields (around 94% of the maximum), but pollination deficits in British Columbia meant that fields in that region averaged 38% lower yields than the estimated maximum yield given full pollination. The authors suggest that the lower abundance of pollinators in British Columbia blueberries relative to Michigan may be due in part to a lower proportion of semi-natural area in the landscape surrounding blueberry fields in that region compared with Michigan. Semi-natural habitats provide bees with flowering and nesting resources that can boost their populations in farm landscapes.

To learn more, read the original article in PLOS ONE here.

New video: The Benefits of Planting Flowers for Bees

How can we help bees and ensure that farmers continue to get consistent, reliable pollination? A new video produced by the Integrated Crop Pollination Project explores one solution that’s gaining support around the world: adding wildflowers to field edges. Planting flowers, especially before and after crops bloom, is a key way in which farmers can ensure their crop pollinators stay healthy through the season and produce abundant offspring for the next year.

New research suggests that wild bees may be declining in many of the same areas where the acreage of pollinator-dependent crops, including many fruits, nuts, and vegetables, is increasing. The loss of natural areas that provide food and shelter for bees in both agricultural and urban settings is likely to be the most important contributor to these declines. Planting flowers on farms, whether in the form of wildflower strips, meadows, or flowering hedgerows, is a direct strategy for countering the loss of these natural areas in farm landscapes.

Researchers working on Michigan blueberry farms found that native perennial wildflower meadows planted near blueberry fields led to increases in pollinator visits to and yield of nearby highbush blueberries. The increased blueberry yields due to gains over time in wild bee populations meant that the plantings more than paid for the cost of their installation by the fourth year after seeding. Additional research from the US and Europe has found similar benefits of planting wildflowers for wild bee communities.

To learn more about planting wildflowers to support crop pollinators and other strategies to support bees and the pollination they provide, visit http://www.projecticp.org. This research is supported by the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Coordinated Agricultural Project (Award #2012-51181-20105). The video was produced on behalf of the Integrated Crop Pollination Project by Emily May and Katharina Ullmann (The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation).

 

Survey Report on Florida Blueberry Growers’ Pollination Practices Released

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                         Photo: Emily May

The Integrated Crop Pollination Project has released the summary report from its 2015 survey of Florida blueberry growers’ pollination practices. Earlier this month, the project team published the summary from a parallel survey of Michigan blueberry growers.

The survey of 69 blueberry growers in five Florida counties (Alachua, Jackson, Lake, Marion, and Polk) delved into growers’ goals for pollination management, networks of information sources about pollination, and past, current, and potential future practices related to managing and supporting pollinators on blueberry farms.

Relative to Michigan blueberry growers, Florida growers were slightly less likely to report using managed honey bees for pollination (61% of Florida growers buy, rent, or own managed honey bees, compared with 79% of Michigan growers). However, Florida blueberry growers reported more widespread use of managed bumble bees for pollination, both alone and in combination with honey bees, than Michigan growers.

Just over half of Florida blueberry growers reported using reduced-risk pesticide practices to help protect pollinators. By comparison, the previous summary report from Michigan blueberry indicated extensive adoption of practices that minimize the risk of pesticides to bees, with over 90% of surveyed Michigan blueberry growers reporting changing the timing of pesticide and fungicide applications to minimize the risk to bees (e.g. spraying at night) and choosing active ingredients with less toxicity to bees.

The research team will be conducting a follow-up survey in winter 2016-2017 in Florida and other states surveyed in 2015 (including Michigan, Oregon, and California) to continue learning about pollination management practices.

Survey of Michigan Blueberry Growers’ Pollination Practices Shows Widespread Adoption of Reduced-Risk Pesticide Practices

ICP_MIBlueberry_SurveyReport_thumbnailThe Integrated Crop Pollination Project has released a summary report from its 2015 survey of Michigan blueberry growers’ pollination practices.

The survey of 240 blueberry growers delved into growers’ goals for pollination management, networks of information sources about pollination, and past, current, and potential future practices related to managing and supporting pollinators on blueberry farms. Researchers also surveyed growers in other crops and regions around the United States, allowing them to draw comparisons between pollination practices in different growing areas.

“We saw significant differences in use of pesticide practices that support diverse pollinators between Michigan and Florida blueberry growers, with Michigan having much higher rates of adoption,” says Dr. Kelly Garbach (Loyola University Chicago), the lead author of the report. “A large proportion of Michigan growers choose active ingredients that are less harmful to bees and time pesticide applications to minimize impacts on bees. This suggests the success of extension and outreach efforts [on pesticide risks to bees] in Michigan.”

The research team will be conducting a follow-up survey in late 2016-early 2017 to continue learning about pollination management practices in the areas surveyed in 2015. “We’re especially interested in understanding factors that can help catalyze use of on-farm habitat—like planting flowering or flowering cover crops—that can support pollinators,” says Dr. Garbach.

 

2015 Michigan Blueberry Grower Survey Highlights:

Information sources: Michigan blueberry growers get information on crop pollination from a variety of sources. Growers reported that beekeepers, other growers, and Michigan State University Extension were the primary groups they communicated with about pollination management. Personal relationships provide key support for learning about pollination management, in addition to personal experience and written materials – especially extension publications.

Pollination Goals: Michigan blueberry growers’ most important goal for crop pollination was achieving consistent, reliable crop pollination. It may, therefore, be useful to frame grower-oriented communication about pollinator friendly farming practices in terms of this goal.

Managed pollinators: The majority of Michigan blueberry growers (71%)  reported buying or renting managed bees, with most growers using managed honey bees. Some growers also used combinations of honey bees and wild bees or managed bumble bees, or managed bumble bees alone. The average honey bee stocking rate for 2014 was 2 hives per acre and growers paid $52.30 ± $1.30 per hive. Growers with large farms were more likely to buy or rent bees than small growers.

Attracting diverse pollinators: In addition to renting or buying honey bees, growers reported using practices that provided floral and nesting resources for pollinators (e.g. maintaining natural habitat, using cover crops, and leaving areas of reduced tillage–which can help support nesting habitat).  Practices to attract diverse pollinators—including planting flowering cover crops, planting wildflowers along field edges, leaving fallows, and retaining natural habitat—were thought to improve crop pollination. However, weeds, pests, and costs were reported as concerns. Addressing these benefits and concerns may be useful to support growers’ adoption of practices to attract diverse pollinators.

Pesticide management: There is widespread use of pest management practices designed to minimize impacts on bees, including modifying the timing of pesticide and fungicide applications to minimize impacts on bees and making an effort to choose active ingredients that have the least impact on bees. This suggests that pesticide impact messages have been highly visible.

 

For more information, read the summary report here.

New video: An Inside Look at Pollination Research

More than 150 food crops in the US and Canada need insect pollination to produce quality, marketable yields; it’s estimated that one out of every three bites of food we eat comes from an insect-pollinated crop. Supporting pollinators and the crop pollination they provide in farm landscapes will be essential to sustainable crop production as global food demand continues to grow.

What are scientists around the US and Canada doing to figure out how best to support pollinators and crop pollination? What does this research look like on farms and in labs across the country? This new video about the Integrated Crop Pollination Project will take you inside this collaborative research project involving over 50 scientists and Extension professionals, 100 farm fields and 15 organizations working to understand and compare approaches to the pollination of almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, pumpkins, and watermelons.

For more information on Integrated Crop Pollination and the ongoing Project ICP research, visit http://www.projecticp.org.

This project is supported by USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant (#2012-51181-20105).