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Importance of Sustaining Healthy Pollinator Populations

By Graham Parsons, PAg, MSc, Provincial Specialist, Pollinator Biosecurity

Pollinator enhancement is an idea that can be especially important for fruit producers. If your crop or fruit has flowers and pollen, there’s a good chance that having more pollinators will benefit you. This may come in a variety of ways like to achieve acceptable yields, as in the case of haskap, or pollination may add partially to yield, as in a crop like strawberry. Along that spectrum, nearly all fruit production yield can be increased with healthy pollinating insect populations.

Pollinating insects can also increase the quality of fruit set. Having insects moving pollen around can help ensure fruit matures to a beautiful, marketable size, with a pleasing shape. Apples that are shrunken or lopsided can be an example of inadequate pollen movement and subsequent pollination.

A third benefit of healthy pollinator populations can be shorter time to crop maturity and a more even ripening of fruit. This can help fruit producers to harvest their crops earlier in the season when good weather is more likely to ease harvest. More even or synchronized fruit-set can also simplify fruit harvest. Fruit ripening can decrease harvesting costs and complication, due to having both unripe, and over-ripe fruit at the same time. Pollination can help all of this.

So how can fruit producers help the pollinators in and around their area? There are many methods, but a great resource has been developed by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Their website is a valuable resource for anyone with an interest in pollination, insects and conservation. The resources specifically useful to orchard and fruit producers, are the guides to habitat assessment available on their website.

Bumble Bee
A wild yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola)
provides a haskap orchard with free and effective
pollination. Providing habitat for pollinators in and
around orchards helps to ensure high quality fruit

The guides function is to identify areas that can affect pollinators, other beneficial insects and management practices that improve habitat. They take into account local landscape features, foraging habitat, nesting habitat and farm activities that impact pollinators. They include great illustrative figures and a good workflow format to evaluate your location. As the guidelines suggest, they are best used to assess a location before changes are made, after change implementation and as a management tool to evaluate positive changes in pollinator habitat over longer time frames.

In some cases, the ability to change the landscape may be limited. For instance, an orchard in the middle of cultivated agricultural production may be subject to the management practices of surrounding landowners. But even if that is the case, there are often simple changes to orchards that could be made. Something as simple as changing the frequency of grass cutting or planting clover between fruit trees could make a huge difference to local pollinators. Many different methods are identified in the worksheets and they provide a great resource to plan some changes that will benefit pollinators.

If you would like additional one-on-one help with pollinator support, email Graham Parsons, pollinator biosecurity specialist. He is specifically developing and gathering resources in support of pollinating insects and producers who depend on them. You can also email Forrest Scharf, provincial fruit specialist.

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