Blueberries are a high-value crop in the United States (estimated value of $825 million in 2016) and one of the fastest growing crops in Pennsylvania. This crop depends on bee pollination to maximize yields. While managed honey bees are regularly rented to achieve optimal pollination in commercial farms, there are two disadvantages with this approach to guarantee pollination: (1) honey bee rentals are costly, and (2) honey bees are less efficient pollinators of blueberries than wild bee species. In a survey we conducted to blueberry growers in 2018, 50% of the participants reported that they use honey bees for pollination services. Still 53% of growers reports concerns about pollination limitation in their farms. We are partnering with blueberry growers in Pennsylvania to generate information that will improve their production practices by maximizing pollination services. Specifically, we plan to (1) identify what bees are providing the greatest pollination, and (2) quantifying pollination limitation. Results from this study will provide critical information to increase blueberry yields in our partner’s farms and help them define which bee species should be emphasized for conservation efforts.
Project objectives from proposal:
This proposal seeks to understand three aspects of blueberry pollination that will directly benefit our partner growers and others in Pennsylvania:
* Objective 1: Quantify the level of free pollination services provided by wild bee species. This information will benefit farmers by indicating the degree to which they could exclusively rely on free pollination services or need to augment this input with honey bee rentals.
* Objective 2: Determine what bee species are providing pollination services. By identifying the key wild pollinators of blueberry farms, farmers will be able to design informed management practices to enhance bee populations of the key pollinators (e.g., through pollinator plantings, additional nesting habitat, timing of crop protection practices on other flowering species in their farm, etc.)
* Objective 3: Determine whether blueberry farms in Pennsylvania are pollination limited. Quantifying the level of pollination limitation will allow farmers to determine whether or not they would improve productivity and receive economic gains by increasing pollination services.
The combination of these pieces of information will allow growers to understand their pollination needs, make informed decisions about how to maximize pollination services and focus their bee-conservation efforts for their farms.