Researchers are looking for ways to boost bee-friendly practices

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Almonds are big business in California, which produces 80 percent of the world’s harvest with a value of $ 5.62 billion.

To grow these almonds, farmers need bees to pollinate their crop. And bee populations have suffered sharp declines in recent years, as part of a pattern of widespread loss of pollinator diversity and abundance.

Today, a UO biologist and former UO postdoctoral fellow looked for ways to inspire almond growers to adopt bee-friendly practices, such as planting cover crops, adoption of permanent habitat for pollinators and adoption of best management practices for bees.

They didn’t come up with a quick fix, but they learned that the location of almond trees played a central role in adopting bee-friendly practices, as well as concerns about future pollination services. Their results suggest that a regionally flexible conservation strategy focused on supporting honey bee colonies may have the highest likelihood of producer participation and adoption.

The article by Jennie Durant and Lauren Ponisio was published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems this summer.Ponisio is an assistant professor of biology at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution in the Department of Biology at UO. Durant was a UO postdoctoral fellow with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture when they conducted the study. She is now a science and technology policy research fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, working for the US Department of Agriculture.

Scientists brought an interdisciplinary approach to the study: Ponisio is an ecologist skilled in large-scale data analysis, while Durant describes herself as an agricultural sociologist.

Ponisio’s main area of ​​study is bee conservation and community ecology. She grew up in Fresno “in the middle of all those almonds,” she says, and learned early on how important bees were to farming, especially when a frost killed flowers and bees.

“We tried to figure out how we can restore wild bee populations in agriculture,” she said. “There’s a lot of science on how to do this and how effective it is, but not a lot of producer adoption. “

Ponisio and Durant conducted an online survey of 329 California almond growers, both hired by farm managers and owner-operators.

The survey looked at the adoption of three types of bee-friendly practices: adoption of cover crops, adoption of permanent habitat for pollinators, and adoption of California honey bee best management practices. Almond Board, which generally focus on reducing pesticides.

The results indicated that growers are more interested in growing cover crops than in establishing permanent habitat for pollinators in their orchards. Cover crops may be more popular because they are perceived to require less water, attention, installation, labor, and maintenance than permanent pollinator habitat.

They found that the main incentive for producers to adopt bee-friendly practices was to strengthen their honey bee colonies and then reduce their rental fees for managed honey bee colonies. They were less concerned with native bee populations.

“We have certainly seen that growers are more interested in adopting bee-friendly practices to enhance bee pollination during flowering, in order to increase their yield,” Durant said.

Where growers are located – whether in the drier southern parts of California or the rainier north – is the biggest indicator of whether and how they are adopting these practices, she said. For example, growers in the Sacramento Valley, where rainfall is higher, were more likely to plant cover crops and permanent habitat for pollinators than their southern counterparts.

“To me, this suggests that a regionally sensitive conservation approach might make the most sense,” rather than a strict statewide program, Durant said.

By Tim Christie, University Communications


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