Decline of bees threatens crop yields across NJ and the U.S.
Most of the world's crops depend on honeybees and wild bees for pollination, but a lack of pollinators is raising concern about food security, according to a new Rutgers study.
Rachael Winfree, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Rutgers, said crop yields for apples, cherries and blueberries across the United States are being reduced by a lack of pollinators.
The issue with honeybees has largely had to do with health issues and management issues like colony collapse disorder, Winfree said. The situation has not gotten much worse in the last few years, but it's been a problem for about 15.
There are also about 400 other wild bee species native to New Jersey and 4,000 in the United States, Winfree said. The study found for many crops, the wild bees were doing similar amounts of crop pollination to the honeybees.
Seven crops were looked at in the study, including crops that grow in New Jersey: Apples, highbush blueberries, sweet cherries, tart cherries, almonds, watermelons and pumpkins. The purpose was to look at how pollination or lack of it affected major crop-producing areas.
Apples, sweet cherries, tart cherries and blueberries showed evidence of being limited by pollination.
Winfree said this is the first study of its kind to show on nationwide scale, and across many different crops, that if there continues to be declines in the honeybee and wild bee population, there will be a direct impact on crop production. And that could directly impact food security, Winfree said.
Agricultural growers and farmers probably had no idea more bees were needed to pollinate their crops, she said. It's not like they can go out in the field and visibly see that they need more bees to help their crops flourish.
Blueberries happen to be among New Jersey's main crops. Winfree said the research found areas already good for production could be much better with more pollenators.
The good news is that there are ways for all of us to help increase bee pollination. One is for the average person to limit the use of pesticides. While they may be used to get rid of unwanted insects and pests, Winfree said some of those pesticides can be toxic to bees.
Agricultural growers should make their farms more friendly to the wild bee population, she said. The pollination farmers get from wild bees is free, Winfree said. That's a really good deal, because farmers must pay for pollination from honeybees. Another way they can help increase pollination is to rent more honeybees, she said.
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