Native Pollinators: A Promising Solution to an Emerging Crisis
Produced by Penn State's Dr. Ed Rajotte and Dr. David Biddinger, "Native Pollinators: A Promising Solution to an Emerging Crisis", describes the decline of honey bees and the role other native pollinators play in pollination of crops. It depicts the efforts of Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research, NRCS and the Xerces Society in researching the most effective native pollinators and assisting growers by planting pollinator habitats in farms and orchards in Pennsylvania. For more information on pollinators, visit the Center for Pollinator Research.
NARRATOR: First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let's Move campaign promises to change the landscape of children's nutrition. One of the primary goals is to insure families have access to a dependable supply of inexpensive, healthy food including fresh fruits and vegetables.
MRS. OBAMA: We're working not just with the Department of Agriculture but with food suppliers food service workers, school officials and investing billions of dollars to revamp our school breakfast and lunch programs so that our kids are eating foods with less sugar, fat, and salt, and eating more foods with fresh vegetables and fruits and whole grains.
NARRATOR: Researchers in Adams County Pennsylvania are addressing concerns of fruit and vegetable growers nationwide. these little creatures are an integraland important component in the food chain.
Bees and other insects are responsible for pollinating many of the crops planted for human consumption.
Insect-pollinated fruits and vegetables provide the bulk of the vitamins and minerals we need Without pollinators, the production of many of these crops would cease or require time-consuming and expensive hand-pollination.
For many years fruit and vegetable growers have relied heavily on beekeepers who trucked their colonies around the country and rented them to orchard owners to pollinate their crops. But recently, things have begun to change.
RAJOTTE: Several years ago, people both in the US and in Europe and in other places in the world noticed that honeybee colonies were not doing that well. Bees were dying and disappearing and it was affecting the people who keep bees for businesses and it started to threaten the pollination of crops which we all depend on for our fruits and vegetables. This phenomenon was described as colony-collapse disorder, or CCD. Because of increased demand and decreased supply, the cost of honeybee hives rose dramatically in pennsylvania growers are used to paying thirty five dollars per colony and that price has now gone up to over one hundred dollars per colony and there are many, many research projects going on around the world trying to discover the cause of CCD. and at some of the remedies NARRATOR: A vital arm of the Penn State University, College of Agricultural Sciences is the Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville, Pennsylvania.
Internationally, the FREC, as a collaborator with the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research, is at the forefront of research enhancing pollination of fruit crops in the face of CCD impacts on honey bees.
Here questions of how to adapt to the decreased supply and increased expense of rented pollinators has led to even more questions.
RAJOTTE: This increased cost and decreased hive quality has caused us to look at other species of bees that can supplement the pollination services that honeybees provide.
By spreading our reliance for pollination on multiple species, we decrease the risk of having pollination failures. NARRATOR: The primary researcher working on solutions in Adams County is Dr. David Biddinger, a tree fruit entomologist and biocontrol specialist. His field of work makes him intimate with the behavior and health of fruit and vegetable pollinators.
BIDDINGER: Although we understand honeybees very well, we've lived with them since the the time of the Egyptians for thousands of years, many of these other pollinators, some refer to them as the forgotten pollinators, were here before the honeybees. Some of these are the bumblebees that you're familiar with and some of them are these small, solitary bees.
There's a huge diversity.
In our survey efforts with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, looking at the diversity of bees in Pennsylvania, we have 450 species now, including several new, undescribed species that we've found in around the orchards NARRATOR: The answer to the problem may have been buzzing around the orchards all the time. To help with funding the research, Drs. Biddinger and Rajotte applied for a grant to form a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Resources Conversation Service or NRCS and the Xerces Society, international organization that seeks to protect and expand habitat forinvertebrates.
VAUGHN: What we see in Pennsylvania, which we see in many other parts of the country, as agriculture intensifies, you see a decrease in the abundance and diversity of native bees that are there to potentially pollinate crops. It's becoming increasingly important for us to look at ways to diversify the bees that are available for for agricultural production. and that's where this work in pennsylvania really ties in NARRATOR: One of the drawbacks to relying more heavily on native pollinators is their limited range compared with the honey bees.
BIDDINGER: Scale of the orchards is very important in pollination from native bees.
Larger plots, since these bees only fly maybe a maximum 300 yards, will have difficulties in a hundred-acre field for the bees coming in from the edges to actually pollinate the whole field.
A smaller block, say maybe of ten acres surrounded by suitable habitat will have adequate maybe without any need for honeybees at all.
VAUGHN: One of the solutions to addressing these declines in bees across diverse farm landscapes is to bring habitat, really fantastic, bee-rich habitat back into these farmlands. So that's the work that's being done here in Pennsylvania This parallels work ongoing in California and Florida and Wisconsin and Michigan.
NARRATOR: The third partner in this triad is the local Pennsylvania NRCS office. The NRCS encourages farmers to participate in agricultural conservation activities.
GILLIS: A lot of people don't realize the amount of food and other products, fiber products and things like that that are related to pollinators in the landscape. They say roughly one out of every three bites of food that we eat relies on pollinators at some point during its growth or processing.
And as a result, it's more important than most folks realize.
What we're trying to do here is work with the producers to help them increase the numbers of native pollinators that they have, things that would occur naturally in the landscape.
NARRATOR: With the cooperation of Federal and State agencies and local growers, Dr. Biddinger and his colleagues are providing knowledge and equipment to help plant pollinator habitats on farms and orchards in the surrounding area. Their research will eventually prove invaluable to growers across the country and around the world. BIDDINGER: We're far from having all the answers to the questions. We have a number of objectives in the studies, trying to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.
One of them is what is the best mix of wildflowers to encourage certain species of bees. And we're just starting to identify now which bees we think are important.
NARRATOR: But, in the final analysis, it all comes back to the growers and their relationship with the land and native pollinators.
Organizing the Osmias or Mason Bees to work efficiently as pollinators in orchards and fields is the mission of researchers and growers alike. HOLLABAUGH: At the end of the day as a grower, though, what I'm interested in is having the ability to set a crop of fruit and however I can go about that is what I'm trying to do. If I can do it in a a natural way that deals with insects that are already known to be here and working here naturally, all the better.
RICE: I've been working with the Osmia for about, probably 12 to 15 years And I like them because they fly faster than a honey bee. So, they'll pollinate more blossoms in a day than what a honey bee will.
PULIG: My observations about native pollinators are that they're beneficial to the orchards but they're hard to establish. We've worked out some of the bugs and figured out some of the problems and I think that we can actually establish some nice pollinator strips now that will be beneficial. NARRATOR: So the promise for the future now rests with what Mother Nature provided in the first place. And with a little help from land-grant universities, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and the agricultural industry, things couldn't look brighter for the smallest among us and their invaluable work on our behalf. The next chapter in the research to improve the plight of pollinators is is just around the corner.