Making better worker bees

Image of liquid being poured into bee hive.

(Bloomberg Businessweek) Argentine startup Beeflow says it has more than doubled its tiny workers’ pollen-carrying capacity by feeding them custom compounds. The nutrients enhance the bees’ immune systems to handle colder conditions and also increase their attraction to the particular flower the farmer wants them to pollinate – blueberries, raspberries, or the all-important almonds. The 2-year-old company tested its insect fuel this season in the fields of a major California almond farmer and on raspberry crops for Driscoll’s, America’s largest berry grower. On deck: cherries and avocados.

This bee gets punched by flowers for your ice cream

Animated image of a leafcutter bee in a hole.

(KQED) VIDEO Next time you eat ice cream, thank a bee. Without them, there would be no cones, milkshakes or sundaes. Every summer, alfalfa leafcutter bees pollinate alfalfa in an intricate process that gets them thwacked by the flowers when they release the pollen that allows the plants to make seeds. And these seeds are what make it possible to grow nutritious hay for dairy cows.

Wildflowers near watermelon fields attract wild bees

Collage of images of pollinators.

(Times and Democrat) A Clemson University graduate student has found growing strips of wildflowers near watermelon fields can help attract pollinators, such as native insects and honey bees. During her study, Miriam “Mimi” Jenkins found most of the watermelon plant pollinators were native bees – tiny sweat bees – despite the nearby hives.

There’s a new group of workers spreading organic pesticide on crops: bees

Image of bee boxes next to field.

(Fast Company) Bees are great at retrieving tiny cargo: their main job is to visit flowering plants in order to gather pollen and nectar for their hive. Now Bee Vectoring Technologies just received EPA approval for an organic fungicide that bees can carry directly from hive to crop. The company has used this system in commercial-size test fields to reduce gray mold on strawberries while increasing yields by at least 10%, and eliminate gray mold and the more nefarious monilinia blight in blueberries. The company projects that it can reduce pesticide use by 50 to 75 percent at conventional farms that are willing to widely adopt the new practice.

Bees are dropping dead in Brazil and sending a message to humans

Image of tractor spraying pesticides.

(Bloomberg) Around half a billion bees died in four of Brazil’s southern states in the year’s first months. The die-off highlights questions about the ocean of pesticides used in the country’s agriculture and whether chemicals are washing through the human food supply — even as the government considers permitting more. Most dead bees showed traces of Fipronil, a insecticide proscribed in the European Union and classified as a possible human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Wildflower strips bring farmers extra money while helping native bees

Image of researcher with net in wildflowers.

(Entomology Today) One practice that can bolster native bee populations is planting strips of wildflowers next to crops; however, a study in 2017 found that, without incentives, few farmers choose to plant flower strips. The key to adoption, therefore, is adequate incentives. Researchers examined all the economic costs and benefits of planting wildflower strips and of selling the resulting seeds; their analysis revealed how profit could be made on the sale of seeds.

Lack of crop diversity and increasing dependence on pollinators may threaten food security

Image of leaf cutter bee on flower.

(EurekAlert/University of Maryland) The study showed that the global area cultivated in crops that require pollination by bees and other insects expanded by 137 percent, while crop diversity increased by just 20.5 percent. This imbalance is a problem because agriculture dominated by just one or two types of crops only provides nutrition for pollinators during a limited window when the crops are blooming. “The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management.”