Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Bee decline warning for farmers, consumers: New Zealand study

New Zealand's pillar agriculture industry stands to lose up to 728 million NZ dollars (523.36 million US dollars) a year if the local honeybee population continues to fall, researchers said Wednesday.

The Lincoln University study of the economic consequence of a decline in pollination rates found consumers would pay more for their food as crop yields dropped and production costs rose.

"We've lost most of our wild bees in New Zealand to varroa mite, and cultivated bees are becoming resistant to varroa pesticides," co-author Professor Stephen Wratten said in a statement.

"Functioning beehives are becoming increasingly expensive for farmers to rent. We know the decline in bee populations is going to have a major impact on our economy, but we wanted to measure the impact."

Previous methods of estimating the economic value of pollination have focused on desktop calculations, but the Lincoln study was conducted in commercial fields producing pak choi cabbages for seed production.

Some of the plants were covered with thin white mesh bags, preventing honeybees and fly species, which were key pollinators, from accessing the plants.

Changes in seed yield, seeds per pod and proportion of unfertilized pods as a result of changing pollination rates were identified, and the economic impact of varying pollination rates was extrapolated to the main 18 pollination-dependent crops in New Zealand.

Farmers worldwide needed help to put appropriate diversity back into their lands, said Wratten.

"There is a lot of scientific knowledge accumulating, but this has to be turned into 'recipes' for end users like farmers to understand and implement," Wratten said.

"The big challenge is to have a recipe that works. Give farmers the right seeds to plant. Make sure the bees get what they need. It's not about planting pretty flowers. It's the science that counts," he said.

"The best way to deliver this is through what we might call 'farmer teachers' - farmers who understand and use the recipe, who will get out into the paddock and be listened to by other farmers."

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