Coralie van Breukelen-Groeneveld

Learning Our ABC’s About Pollinators

Bees and other pollinators play an important role in agriculture, especially in the production of fruits, nuts and vegetables, many of which are directly dependent on insect pollination. Yet while some pollinators are beneficial for growing crops, other insects aren’t quite so helpful.

Because overall up to 40 percent of crop yields can be lost due to pests and diseases, crop protection is an absolute necessity. As some of the products farmers use to control pests can potentially affect bees, how do we balance the need to protect our food with our desire to protect pollinators? And how do we get optimal crop production on the limited land available to agriculture, while leaving other areas to nature?

Let’s explore this topic a bit more in what I’m calling the “ABCs” of pollinators

Apis mellifera is economically important. There are relatively few species belonging to the genus Apis, better known as honey bees, but one of them in particular, the Western Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, brings great value to agriculture and is economically the most important of all the pollinators worldwide. While managed honey bee populations are constantly increasing, in some regions their health is under pressure from pests and diseases, poor nutrition, loss of genetic diversity, and changing weather patterns and landscapes. Because of their vital role in farming, we conduct extensive safety tests and specify stewardship measures to ensure pesticides can be safely used without harming honey bee colonies. The success of this effort is evident in surveys and monitoring programs in various countries, which show that pesticides rank low on the list of top concerns expressed by beekeepers and that harmful incidents are not only rare, but have been declining over several decades.

Biodiversity matters.
 Most people enjoy the aesthetic value of a diverse landscape, which provides habitats with a rich variety of animal and plant species. Almost 90 percent of all flowering plants worldwide are at least partly reliant on pollination by insects and other animals. Pollinator diversity in the agricultural landscape can also have a positive impact on crop production, yet of the estimated 20,000 species of wild bees, only about 2 percent are involved in the pollination of 80 percent of the crops grown worldwide. Bumble bees, mason bees and leafcutter bees are among the most important non-Apis species used for managed pollination in farming. Some crops are better pollinated and produce better yields in the presence of a diverse pollinator community. Unfortunately, unless effective measures are taken, many modern farm and urban landscapes do not provide an adequate habitat for many pollinator species.

Coralie van Breukelen-Groeneveld Global Head of Bayer Bee Care
Coralie van Breukelen-Groeneveld Global Head of Bayer Bee Care
Coralie van Breukelen-Groeneveld,
Head of Bayer Bee Care Center

Collaboration and conservation are key.  Studies show that changes in the landscape structure, caused by farming or urban development, can seriously degrade the habitats of many wild bee species. That’s why Bayer is working with many stakeholders to improve habitats for pollinators.  For example, in less than one year, our North American Feed a Bee program has funded nearly 130 projects to increase forage for pollinators in 45 states, working with many organizations and individuals. And since 2010, Bayer has been part of an on-going collaborative project with German nature conservation institutes to study how ecological enhancement measures to farm landscapes, such as the use of wildflower strips and structural changes, can dramatically increase species diversity and the abundance of wild bees and butterflies (See figure below). These are just two examples of how Bayer has joined with others to tackle some of the threats to pollinators and explore increased opportunities for pollination; our Science Program comprises more than 30 projects worldwide, tailored to meet local and regional needs.

Results from the biodiversity project in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Results from the biodiversity project in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Figure 1.
Results from the biodiversity project in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, showing the average number of wild bee species per sampling area in Rheinmünster
Learning our ABCs about pollinators, reminds us of the importance of keeping our crop protection needs in balance with the conservation of nature and the protection of diverse ecosystems. That’s why the Bayer Bee Care Center’s mission of protecting pollinators and optimizing the productivity of farmers is based on three fundamental pillars: Pollinator nutrition and diversity; Honey bee health and hive management; and Sustainable agriculture. While there is still much to learn about pollinator diversity and agriculture, the more we understand and the closer we work together, the sooner we can look forward to a more sustainable future.
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