A guide for beekeepers and growers
Pollination of crops by bees is integral to Victorian agriculture and horticulture. Some crops would suffer greatly reduced yields without bee pollination, while other crops benefit and provide increased yields and quality produce as a result of bee pollination.
Pollination services offered by beekeepers are a controlled way of ensuring effective bee pollination of crops. Beekeepers may be paid to bring their hives into a particular crop in order to ensure pollination, or a beekeeper may simply offer to provide a pollination service in order for his bees to gain access to a crop's pollen and nectar.
Whatever the motivation for becoming involved in a pollination service, the beekeeper and the crop owner both have responsibilities to ensure the success of the service.
The beekeeper is responsible for ensuring the bees are well managed and healthy, and that they can provide an effective pollination service.
The crop owner is responsible for ensuring that the bees are not disturbed, and that the bees are not harmed through the use of agricultural chemicals.
The use of agricultural chemicals, particularly insecticides in a crop where bees are pollinating has been the cause of a number of bee death incidents over the years.
It appears that growers sometimes don't think about the bees when undertaking their spray program, and in a small number of cases, the grower identifies a pest problem and decides to spray even though he knows the bees are there.
It is absolutely critical that agricultural chemicals are not used in a crop being pollinated by bees unless the beekeeper has been notified, preferably 48 hours before the spraying occurs.
The beekeeper is best placed to assess the risk to the bees, and to determine whether to leave the hives in the crop when it is sprayed, or to move them to a safe site while the spraying is in progress, or to close the hives down while the spraying is in progress.
Some agricultural chemicals have a residual effect, and there may need to be a delay of a few days in returning hives to the crop if a residual insecticide is used.
- Have clear lines of communication with the crop owner, and stress the importance of being notified before any spraying takes place (although insecticides are the most toxic agricultural chemicals to bees, some herbicides and fungicides can be toxic too).
- Inspect their hives regularly and maintain them in prime condition.
- Have clear lines of communication with the beekeeper, and notify the beekeeper before undertaking any spraying, not only in the crop where the bees are located, but in nearby areas as well.
- Ensure the bees are not disturbed so they have the best chance of providing effective pollination. Communication is the key, and a simple phone call can prevent damage to bees, and lowered crop yields. It is a good idea to keep the contact details of both beekeepers and crop owners for reference including their landline and mobile phone numbers.
Living in Harmony - Pesticides and Bees provides additional information for beekeepers and chemical users that will assist in maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship.