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Food & Wine Lifestyle October 8, 2018

The Economics of Pollination: How Bees Sustain Crops and Livestock

Albert Einstein is rumoured to have said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” Depending on the climate, anywhere from 78 to 94% of crops require some form of animal pollination. Bees and plants need each other, and humans need them both. The survival of bees and plants is integral to one another. It is essential that we grow the wild bee population in order to sustain the plant population. One of the ways we can accomplish this is by attracting them to our farms and gardens.

The Importance of Pollination

Pollination is the process through which plants reproduce by transferring pollen from stigma to stamen. Without this process, seeds and fruit are not formed, and many of our crops would fail. Crops feed not only the human population, but livestock as well. Since bees are essential agents in the transportation of pollen grains, they play a crucial role in sustaining primary food sources.

 

Beekeeping on the Farm

Due to the decline in the wild bee population, many farmers have resorted to beekeeping. Their goal is to release commercially bred bees on their farms and have them forage on their crops. In theory, this could help pollinate crops, particularly since bees generally only travel approximately two miles while foraging; however, in practice, this could spread disease and limit or eliminate food sources that the declining wild bee population requires. The practice of beekeeping is necessary to cultivate food and medicine, but wild and domestic bees are not interchangeable. In order to improve the wild bee population on farms and in gardens, we need to plant more colourful and pollen-rich flowers.

 

Caffeine Keeps the Bees Coming

Nearly 55% percent of flowering plants contain a source of caffeine, according to a study conducted by the University of Sussex. Their study determined that while caffeine encouraged bees to return to the same places, they often neglected to visit other “decaffeinated” flowering sources. It is essential that bees spread pollen widely throughout their foraging grounds, continually seeking out particular flowers is counterproductive. One of the ways this could be achieved is by surrounding caffeinated plants with non-caffeinated lookalikes, in order to prevent bees from discriminating against particular plants.

 

Wild bees pollinate the majority of our food sources; therefore, it is crucial that we are able to attract bees to our crops and gardens. Refraining from beekeeping on our farms will limit the competition for food sources between wild and domesticated bees, while keeping gardens looking healthy and vibrant, interspersed with some flowers containing caffeine, will help attract bees and encourage them to return.

 


 Words: Alicia Rennoll

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