SAMAC Bee Forum Meeting

2019-09-20 10:52:00

On Thursday 19 September 2019 SAMAC hosted a Bee Forum Meeting at the Agricultural Research Council-Tropical and Subtropical Crops in Nelspruit.

Attendance was phenomenal with over 160 people, including growers, beekeepers, processors and private industry gathering in order to learn how to protect bees by farming in a sustainable manner and limiting the ecological impact of our operations.

Pollinators including bees, bats, birds, butterflies, etc are threatened globally as a result of intensive agriculture (environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, use of pesticides), transmission of pollinator pests and diseases as a result of globalization and climate change (extreme weather events affecting flowering time, desynchronizing flowers and pollinators).

Bees are a prominent example of the classic mutualistic relationship in nature, with bees providing plants with pollination services and plants providing bees with nectar and pollen to feed their colonies. Macadamia growers rely on bees to ensure high yields; thus it is in their best interest to protect bees. However, we also have a social responsibility to farm sustainably in order to limit our ecological impact and in terms of food security.

Dr Hannelie Human from the University of Pretoria focussed on the effect of neonicotinoids (neonics) on bees. Neonics are water-soluble, and are thus taken up into all parts of a plant, including the pollen and nectar, making them systemic and persistent. Neonics also move from crops to the soil and water, and can contaminate an entire ecosystem when non-crop plants also take up these chemicals.

Research has shown that neonics such as imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam affect bees in the following ways:

  • Impairs navigation, homing and olfactory learning
  • Disrupts neural pathways and thermoregulation
  • Decreases foraging and flight ability

Unbalanced diets exacerbate these effects, and thus supplements should be considered. Dr Human reiterated that both growers and beekeepers should take responsibility and work together in order to limit colony decline.

Dr Hannelie Human

Dr Schalk Schoeman from the ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops gave his insights with a talk titled "A biological strategy for the subtropical fruit industry to manage insects on a sustainable basis". He focussed on practical solutions that growers can implement to limit chemical use to only what is really neccessary. The main points were that the presence of biodiversity in orchards results in healthier orchards, and that growers spray too much and in an ineffective manner.

  • Pruning is VERY IMPORTANT. It allows for sunlight to penetrate the orchard floor, which encourages the growth of weeds and grasses. As trees become larger, they compete with one another for sunlight, and energy is directed into vertical growth as opposed to production, limiting yields. Large trees are also difficult to spray effectively
  • Cover crops and border crops such as wild basil increase the functional biodiversity in in orchards. This promotes bee activity as well as parasitic insects in orchards
  • Spray based on scouting results and not as a form of insurance. Spray in an effective manner by using the right equipment, methods and controlling tree size
  • Use alternatives such as biological control options

Courtesy of Dr Schalk Schoeman the images below outline guidelines for spraying effectively:

Dr Schalk Schoeman

Inge Lotter from The Beeger Picture gave growers practical tips for protecting bees in their orchards:

  • Avoid pesticides during flowering if possible
  • Follow label instructions and do not mix pesticides with sugar as this will attract bees
  • Limit spray drift by only spraying when environmental conditions are suitable, close nozzles when neccessary (near hives, at the ends of rows, top nozzles when spraying small trees etc)
  • Spray when bees are not as active especially after sunset
  • Do not mix insecticides and fungicides in tanks as fungicides also affect bees
  • Warn beekeepers and neighbours 48 hours before applying pesticides so that they can make the necessary arrangements by moving or covering colonies

She also discussed the placement of hives:

  • Hives should be placed at least 60 meters away from orchards to limit drift
  • Dappled shade provides protection against heat
  • Access to water is crucial to preserve the hive temperature
  • Hives should be placed on stands to protect hives from ants and badgers
  • Hives should be placed at the ends of rows or slightly above the orchard
  • To catch new colonies hives should be placed at high locations

The following can be used to encourage bees to remain in orchards once macadamias have finished flowering:

  • Plant additional forage such as African blue basil, lavender, bottle brush, aloes and flowering blackjacks
  • Artificial feeding (sugar water and a pollen substitute)
  • Cover crops such as clovers, vetches and lucerne can also serve as good feeding sources

Inge Lotter

The day ended off with an interactive discussion session. Watch this space for an informative video of the day. Presentations will be sent to members via email.