The importance of honeybees


For The Express

I was able to attend a talk earlier this week at Penn State’s Entomology Lunch Seminar Series where Ed Flannagan, of Wyman’s of Maine, talked about the importance of honeybees to Wyman’s blueberry operation. (He did give a review of the company’s history and its start as a seafood canning company before moving into fruit).

Like all other flowering plants, blueberry bushes have pollen that is produced on the anthers (male genetic material) and needs to move to the stigma (female reproductive part of the flower). Blueberry pollen is pretty large and doesn’t move easily through wind or shaking. (Think of corn as a wind pollinated crop.) Insects are necessary to move this pollen within a blueberry field to obtain large, marketable yields.

In blueberry production fact sheets, David E. Yarborough, Extension blueberry specialist at the University of Maine, states that the increase in the blueberry crop from 20 to 90 million pounds over the past 30 years has been paralleled by increases in the number of honeybees hives imported into Maine for pollination. He estimates that more than 60,000 hives are brought into the state for blueberry pollination.

While Wyman’s maintains 1,200 hives, it is not nearly enough to pollinate the 10,000-acre operation – and the company is developing another 6,000 acres. In fact, another 12,000 hives are required to ensure adequate pollination.

Flannagan’s visit to Pennsylvania was significant because of our role in his state’s blueberry industry. Large Pennsylvania beekeepers are able to fill some of the pollination demand by moving thousands of hives into Maine’s fields when they are blooming.

But Wyman’s also recognizes the peril honeybees are facing and the pressure the beekeepers are under to provide hives every year. As a result, they work with Penn State’s Entomology Department and Center for Pollinator Research to address issues of pollinator decline.(Wyman’s also contributes monies to several other research initiatives at other research institutions.)

The company has also started exploring the use of native pollinators as a pollinating supplement to the managed honeybees. They are constructing habitat near the blueberry fields so the native bees could forage on wild flowers throughout the summer (after the blueberry blooms).

They appear committed to saving the honeybees with their mantra of “No Bees, No Berries.”

Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.