Some growers have questions when it comes to the decision to plant cover crops. Almond growers, in particular, may be concerned that planting forage for honey bees, while a huge benefit for their hired pollinators, their soil quality and maintenance, may offer unwanted competition to their main concern: almond blossoms.
In the spring of this year, important work addressing this concern was published. I am pleased to present the work of collaborating scientists from University of California Davis and Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences. The paper is titled “Wildflower Plantings Do Not Compete with Neighboring Almond Orchards for Pollinator Visits” and can be accessed here.
The idea of cover crop bloom competition is not new. I have often heard a hesitation to plant cover crops due to a fear that bees may be distracted by the flowers the cover crops provide, thus being less efficient at the job they were hired to do to pollinate almond blossoms.
The Seeds for Bees program at Project Apis m. works with growers to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Pollination is a very crucial step in getting the best almond crop possible and hiring beekeepers to carry out pollination is no small cost. Most growers spend 10%-20% of their annual operating costs on pollination services. Apprehension to plant other attractive flowers was understandable.
Our Seeds for Bees growers can attest, to date, no grower has experienced a lowered net set or yield after they started planting Seeds for Bees seed mixes for cover crops. In fact, many are now noticing what beekeepers have noticed: As the diversity of a bee’s diet increases so does it's health and vitality.
Almonds are California’s number one agricultural export, and they contribute more than $11 billion to the state economy.1 The success of this important crop must be protected as organizations like Project Apis m. implement projects dedicated to improving bee health. Thankfully, funders have invested in research and researchers have dedicated their expertise to studying whether or not bees are enticed by alternate sources of food during almond bloom. The team found the number of honey bee visits to almond blossoms was not affected by the presence of a wildflower strip just outside the orchard.2 They concluded, “Alternative flowering resources can be added to almond orchards, even during blooms, without jeopardizing crop pollination.”
I am an advocate for cover crops because I have seen the practice have a significant positive impact on bee and soil health. I am glad work on the issue of cover crop competition has been done. I get excited when new research comes out related to cover crops in orchards. Cover crops are a powerful tool. Let’s make sure they are used in a way that supports both beekeeper and grower. This is what legendary beekeeper John Miller calls “smart farming!” You can count on PAm to continually improve our value to you as a resource for beekeepers and growers alike and share relevant research as it develops in the future.
Director of Pollination Programs
Project Apis m.
Reach Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org or (614) 330-6932