Precision apiculture: Enhancing the health and effectiveness of managed honeybees for soft fruit production

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev

Abstract

Project motivation and aims

Business need: The annual benefits of pollination for soft fruit production in the UK alone are worth £490M, with a £334M for strawberries, £112M for raspberries, £15M for blackcurrant, and £28M for other crops (Breeze et al. 2019). Pollination services are provided by a combination managed honeybees (and sometimes bumblebees) and wild pollinators. While research for management of wild pollinators is well underway (including ongoing CTP studentships), major gaps remain in the optimal management of honeybees for soft fruit production.

BerryWorld, and other soft fruit growers, have a substantial spend on honeybee hives annually, yet evidence to supporting best practices for stocking densities, positioning and management of hives is often outdated or incomplete (Breeze et al., 2014). BerryWorld growers need to be able to confidently invest in the correct number of hives for their operation and avoid overspend (too many hives) and loss of product quality (too few hives). This is business critical, as for instance in 2018, Hall Hunter Partnership suffered ~40% loss of their blueberry production which was linked to inadequate pollination.

Aim: to develop a simple tool to improve the health of honeybee colonies and optimally deploy hives to maximise benefits to yield, quality and profit in soft fruit production.

Objectives:
1. To move beyond 'rule of thumb' estimates of the stocking densities of honeybee hives in fields by experimentally determining optimal densities and locations for maximising pollination benefits in different soft fruit crops.
2. To test and validate data from sensors within honeybee hives to detect and rapidly respond to health issues such as pest, disease and insecticide threats.
3. To undertake a full cost:benefit analysis to underpin a simple tool allowing growers to make informed decisions on the management of honeybee hives across the whole farm.
4. To develop best practice guides for the sustainable use of honeybees in intensive soft fruit production systems.
We will use a combination of replicated field trials manipulating the density and positioning of honeybee colonies in strawberry, raspberry and blueberry, and high-tech sensor enabled hives to monitor colony health, to characterise the benefits of honeybee pollination to yield, quality and commercial grading of produce. This understanding combined with economic and agronomic data will underpin the development of best practices for the use of honeybees in our target crops and provide a roadmap for extension to other crops.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/V509735/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024
2432676 Studentship BB/V509735/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Laine Callaghan