What is Pollination?
Pollination is the process of transferring the male part of the plant (pollen) to the female part of the plant (Pistil), which completes fertilization, thus enabling the plant to produce fruit or vegetables.
Pollination may be abiotic, where pollination occurs without the involvement of other organisms, or biotic, where other organisms called pollinators transport the pollen grains from the anther to the pistil. About 80% of all plant pollination is biotic. Many plants require cross-pollination, where pollen is delivered from the flower of one plant to the flower of another plant. Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s food crops and 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive.
Who are the Pollinators?
Pollinators are animals, usually insects, but may also be birds, mammals, or reptiles. The transport of pollen is usually the result of their activities, such as visiting plants for feeding. Plants attract their preferred pollinators through brightly coloured petals, scent, and nectar & pollen which provide a source of food.
Up until about one hundred years ago, there were enough wild bees and other insects in the world to pollinate virtually all of the food crops being planted. Today, however, because of intensive agricultural practices, and a sharp decline in the number of wild bees due to the use of chemicals, pollution, and destruction of insect habitat, there simply are not nearly enough wild insect pollinators to effectively pollinate our crops.
As a result, the business of honeybee pollination services has developed throughout many parts of the world, where a beekeeper can rent a colony of honeybees to a farmer for the bloom season, which is typically 4 weeks long. It’s estimated that there are about 2.4 million colonies in the U.S. today, two-thirds of which are used for pollinating crops. More than one million colonies are used each year in California just to pollinate the state’s almond crop!
Honeybees pollinate Major Food Crops
Of the world’s 115 most important food crops, 87 require pollination to produce fruits, nuts and seeds. They account for a third of the $3 trillion worth of agricultural produce sold each year. These crops provide 35% of the calories we consume yearly and most of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Seven of the nine crops that provide at least half the vitamin C to the human diet depend on insect pollination. They include oranges, cabbages, peppers, tomatoes, melons, tangerines and watermelons. Five major fruit crops (apple, almond, avocado, blueberry and cranberry) are reliant on insect pollination.
In North America, approximately 1.5 million beehives are rented out to many different food crops. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, honeybees are used to pollinate apples, blueberries, currants, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, cranberries, pumpkin, zucchini, and squash.
Economic Benefit of Honeybee Pollination
A 2000 Cornell University study concluded that the direct value of honeybee pollination to U.S. agriculture was more than $14.6 billion. Current estimates are close to $20 billion. The almond crop in California alone is worth $2.3 billion annually. The economic value of pollination worldwide may be as high as $90 billion. The economic value of honeybee pollination to food crops in Canada has been estimated at over $2 billion a year.
The economic benefit to the grower is far greater than it is to the beekeeper. In a blueberry crop, for example, the fruit yield can increase by as much as 50% from honeybee pollination. If a grower with mature plants rents 6 colonies per acre at a total cost of $450, they can expect as much as $5,000 in additional fruit.
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