Over the last four years we have been developing a mechanical pollination process that is useful in increasing yield and reducing risk from agricultural food production. This process uses electrostatic processes that are similar to what bees and flowers already generate. Early research at the University of Georgia demonstrated that the use of electrostatically charged pollen is nine times more effective at reaching the stigma of the flower than pollen that is just blown into the air. Pollen-Tech has developed an inductively charged aqueous droplet system to carry the pollen from the sprayer to the flower that is very effective at increasing fertilization rates for fruit and nut production.
The use of mechanical pollination may be used to reduce the risk associated with agricultural production in crops that require insect assisted pollination and thus increasing food security. We will review some of the risks here.
Bee risks include all the risk associated with using bees. These include over winter losses, bee transportation risk, performance risk associated with weather and disease, and cost risks. While traditionally a 12% loss of bees over winter was considered sustainable, since 2004 this yearly number has been as high as a 36% loss to a low in the 20% loss range. Beekeepers have adjusted practices to be more aggressive at splitting hives and better feeding bees to manage some of these risks so bees have been available to most growers in the last few years. This has come at a cost, with per hive costs going up over 400% in the last 12 years. An additional concern is weather related, winter losses where a sudden cold snap moves southward killing large numbers of wintering bees in normally warm unprepared regions.
The problem of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has not yet been completely understood and agreed upon by experts so more problems may be on the horizon. Bee transportation risk are associated with 60% of all commercial bees in the US being transported across the US to California to be used in almond pollination. As 2,000,000 hives move across country there are logistical risks to consider. There are weather delays, driver illness, mechanical failures and accidents that occur. Of particular concern are weather delays that can affect multiple trucks moving across a region.
Performance risks are associated with bees doing the job of pollination. In a flash bloom all the blossoms open up and mature over a very short period of time. Bees may not be able to adequately pollinate flowers during the short time of a flash bloom. In a normal bloom it may still be too windy, cloudy, rainy or cold for bees to adequately pollinate. Bees are attracted to some blossoms more than others on the same tree. A characteristic of a bee only pollinated tree is that the pollination is more irregular with some branches not receiving any pollination at all while other flowers receive multiple visits. A tree with supplemental electrostatically sprayed pollen will be much more uniform in results.
Tree-Based Pollination Risks
Tree risks include the risk of adequate pollen production at the right time to ensure pollination of flowers. Bloom timing risk is defined as two trees planting together that are expected to bloom at the same time for cross pollination and do not. Environmental conditions may exist that result in anther stress reducing the amount of pollen produced. Draught and saline overload are two conditions that can reduce pollen productions. In these circumstances outside supplemented pollen can significantly increase yield. In an almond field tested in 2014 the Fritz variety was unknowingly experiencing anther stress from high saline water conditions in the field. The Fritz rows were decimated by the saline conditions while the Nonpareil variety was still healthy. In Nonpareil control rows the production was half of the production in rows where supplemental pollen was used. The supplemental pollination made up for the lack of Fritz pollen availability. Lack of chill hours in a region can also affect the amount of available pollen for fertilization.
Increased Yield With Supplemental Pollination
While many technical articles and publications have described supplemental pollination there have been many limitations such as using techniques where pollen is not used efficiently, techniques where the pollen life is very limited or processes where determining benefit is difficult to quantify. The study process was optimized for the amount of pollen to use per acre, the time of spraying, spraying supplements and spray equipment were tested for results. These should be viewed as screening experiments and additional testing and verification is still on going.
At this point a standard process protocol has been established and additional testing and demonstration fields will be used to further define affects. The Pollen-Tech process is a wet process that uses about 8 gallons of water an acre to mix with pollen and to charge droplets through an inductive process and not a less effective corona spray process. It is designed for yield increases in the 10 to 20% range. It should be noted that adding bees to some problems like a flash bloom can help but adding more hives to a weather problem or a tree problem probably will not help.
Case Example Summary
|Crane Mill Farms||Almonds||2,180||Control group|
|Bowman Ranch||Almonds||3,996||Historical records|
|Ag Telesis||Cherry||125,943||Last three years and control group|
|Agriland Independence||Almond||2,906||Control group|
|Agriland NP/M/F||Almond||8,477||Control group|
One way of evaluating risk is to determine how often something is likely to occur and then dividing the cost of that occurrence by the frequency it occurs. In this example we ask how likely an event that wipes out half the crop value is likely to occur. We estimate the crop at being worth 24,220 USD an hectare and losing half of that is a loss of 12,110 USD.
Risks Costs Evaluation
|Cost per hectare of losing half of crop.||12,110 USD|
|Cost per Year|
|Once every how many years do bees being transported to your field have a delay that could affect yield? ( bad weather, accident, sick driver etc.)||150||$ 81|
|Once every how many years do bee deaths from CCD, fire, freezing that are so bad that they affect your yield?||40||303|
|Once every how many years does a flash bloom come that would be so fast that it would affect your yield?||30||404|
|Once every how many years does bad weather (Rain, wind, cold or other) be extreme enough to keep bees from pollinating and reduce yield.||35||346|
|Once every how many years do you see anther stress sever enough to affect pollen production and reduce yield?||20||605|
|Once every how many years does bloom timing mismatch become severe enough to affect yield?||40||303|
|Once every how many years does lack of chill hours reduce the pollen production to reduce yield? This is very dominate in California cherry production.||20||605|
|Total Cost of Risks listed above:||$ 2,647|
If you weigh the potential benefit of 15% crop increase or 3,633 USD per hectare and a potential savings from catastrophic risk of 2,647 USD per hectare, the total benefit is 6,280 USD per hectare. This value is delivered for a cost of only 605 USD per hectare.
The best way to improve food security is to make sure growers are protected and have high benefits for any additional cost incurred.