Hired Help – The Honey Bee
The status quo technology for pollinating plants is the honeybees. For bee pollination, timely beehive placement, strength of beehives, activity during cool weather, sufficient bloom and bloom overlap are all concerns for growers.
For large farms with large monoculture crop fields, honeybee pollination involves renting bees which are trucked into to the fields or orchards. When bees are not available for rent or the adequate infrastructure does not exist, bringing in bees may not be an option, and the farmers must provide their own bees or depend on nature to do so.
Several aspects of current agriculture practice are based on using bee pollination, such as the planting of alternating varieties of a crop (in every other row) to increase cross-pollination. Since different varieties of a crop may ripen at different times, such a practice results in multiple harvests and therefore higher costs.
Since 2004, the cost of bees for many crop types has increased as much as five-fold due to decrease in the bee supply, as a result of CCD decimating bee colonies. Farmers are concerned about the continued use of bees as their main form of pollination. Luckily, Pollineering’s process is bee friendly and can be used in conjunction with bees to enhance their pollination efforts.
These factors, combined with the rising cost of bees, aligns our company with the desire farmers have for a far more reliable pollination technology. The benefits of our technology highly incentivize the farmers to use our innovative technology.
Volunteers – Native Bees & Insects
A second source of pollination include native bees and other pollinating insects. Mason and carpenter bees are increasingly being used as more efficient pollinators, especially when crops are in need of cross pollination. Some companies have begun selling starter kits of mason bees that allow growers to maintain their own colony. Growers then need to maintain their population by providing suitable flowers, as a food source for these bees, otherwise these bees will migrate onward in search of food when these crops stop blooming.
Many orchards are monoculture crops where non-crops are considered weeds. Consequently, they are sprayed regularly to eliminate non-crop plants, which has the side effect of eliminating food sources for bees. While they may remain a viable for some smaller growers with flower sources for bees to use as food nearby, it is very much at the whim of mother nature and does not optimize pollination nearly as well as our processes. Research is currently being carried out to determine if providing other food source plants in the orchards can help bee population. To date, the results of this research have been mixed.
Some farmers have already tried innovative techniques to solve some of the problems occurring with the bee pollination methods. For example, some farmers buy pollen from pollen supply companies to place at the entrance of the bee hives to enhance pollination. However, there is little research on this method, and it is unclear if it actually increases yield. Furthermore, placing pollen at the front of the hives still relies on the actual bees and all of the risks associated with them.
Farmers have also tried blowing dry pollen onto the trees. There is no evidence that this actually increases yield unless one uses so much pollen that it becomes cost prohibitive. With limited evidence of success and high costs, this technology has not taken hold in the industry. Using Pollineering’s process, electrostatic sprayers, the pollen-infused slurry is 10 times more effective at attaching to the stigma of the flower than blowing dry pollen. This allows us to be much more effective in terms of both yield and pollen use.
Another current area of research is the development of self-pollinating trees. Currently these trees are still in testing or early production phases, so it is unclear how much of a competition they will be. Because trees must grow to maturity before their effectiveness can be measured, it will be a number of years before there is any conclusive evidence for this approach. While self-pollinating trees have made great strides in the past 10 years, in most cases they still have not matched the standard of regular trees.
The long lifespan of trees also limits the speed that this technology could be implemented, if it is ever developed. Farmers have heavy investments in their current orchards and are not likely to rip out producing trees until their trees grow too old to produce well. Tests of our technology on self-pollinating trees have shown a 15% increase in crop yield over untreated self-pollinating trees in the same orchard, certainly a modest increase.