The more different wild pollinators forage in almond orchards, the more secure will be the farmers’ investment – with up to 68 percent higher annual income. The risk for insecure yields reduces by up 20 percent compared to orchards lacking pollinator diversity. This was the finding delivered by Yuki Henselek, a doctoral environmental economist at the University of Freiburg (Germany). Wild pollinators, according to Henselek, act as an “insurance policy” for the income of almond farmers.
California is the world’s leading producer of almonds. Therefore, Henselek’s assessment is based on a study of 23 almond orchards in Sacramento Valley, California from a project initiated in 2008 by Professor Alexandra-Maria Klein, vice-president of the GfÖ and University professor in Freiburg and Lueneburg (Germany), alongside Professor Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley. Henselek has concluded that having a diversity of pollinators “means that farmers will be unlikely to have a low income.”
The question remains, however, as to how farmers can encourage wild bees to work alongside honey bees in their almond orchards. According to Dick Rogers, Principal Scientist and Entomologist at Bayer, the standard almond pollination strategy is to “flood” an orchard with as many honey bees as possible, in the hope that the intense competition for blossoms will lead to higher overall pollination rates. However, there are particular challenges to attract wild bees to almond fields: “As a monocrop where trees are typically planted densely together in very large orchards, there is limited habitat for wild bees. Wild bee species do not forage far from their nests, so there needs to be many nests distributed throughout the orchards to ensure adequate pollination,” says Rogers.
Therefore, the focus should now be on broader implementation: “It’s really a question of how almond farmers and beekeepers will create a strategy that encourages other bee species to work alongside honey bees,” says Rogers. He states that changes in landscaping and the cultivation of blooming strips, could help almond farmers to attract different pollinators. Based on their Californian study, Henselek confirmed that a high proportion of natural vegetation nearby seems to attract pollinators and leads to more biodiversity, which can help ensure pollination.
Read about the study “Synergistic Effects of Non-Apis Bees and Honey Bees for Pollination Services”, which was published by the Royal Society in 2013 and the article at UC Davis.
Professor Alexandra-Maria Klein has also worked with Bayer to close the gaps in pollination knowledge.
Approximately 31 billion honey bees visit Central California’s almond orchards each February to pollinate:
To learn more about the numbers behind beekeeping in California’s almond orchards, read the Scientific American’s article, “The Mind-Boggling Math of Migratory Beekeeping”.