Bee on Flower

A bee-utiful spring day: Measuring pollinators' benefit on crop yields

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Buzzing about biodiversity

We are absolutely buzzing about biodiversity being used to boost crop yields.

Last Friday, whilst most sensible people were thinking about chocolate eggs, we had eggs of a different sort on our mind.

We set off bright and early for Aberdeenshire to set up some nifty monitoring equipment with SRUC researchers at our new demonstration farm. These are solitary bee nests – attractive places for bees to lay their eggs, which we can then count, and get an idea of how many solitary bees are around.

We want to see if these bees, along with a range of other pollinating insects, can increase crop yields. There is some pretty exciting research coming out on this topic of ‘ecological intensification’ (where benefiting ecology benefits production), and we want to see if this works on an arable farm in the North East.

What does the demonstration farm involve?

We have selected two farms close to each other, near Inverurie. Both farms are arable, with no livestock, growing a mix of cereal crops (oilseed rape, winter wheat, spring barley) and potatoes. The demonstration project will run over three years, with one farm acting as a control, with management practices not changing. In the second year, we will sow some wildflowers and pollinator friendly plants into the margins….and measure the difference.

These nifty contraptions (pictured) are the perfect place for bees to lay their eggs.

 

Friday’s adventure was the first step of this journey. We visited both farms, and set up 10 solitary bee nests at various points on each farm. Over the growing season, other traps will be added to capture the full range of pollinators that emerge at different points of the year. SRUC’s researchers Lorna and Billy will then monitor what happens, and we will be giving them a bit of a hand.

Lorna and Billy setting up solitary bee nests at a South Eastern angle within the arable fields near Inverurie.

So … Why are you doing this?

We want to see if yields can be increased by introducing pollinator friendly habitats on typical arable farms. Since 2015 non-organic arable farmers have been required to establish 5% of their arable land as ‘Ecological Focus Areas’ (EFAs). At the Soil Association we are interested in ‘win-wins’, and want to see if we can have a positive business and environmental impact from making the best use of these EFAs. The theory is, that by increasing the amount of pollinators (such as bees), within field margins, yields will also be increased: a win-win situation for farm businesses and the environment.

This sounds really exciting. How can I get involved?

We are always looking for ways to create win-wins for farmers and the environment. Are you a farmer or a grower who might want to get involved as a host, demo farm or even to have a chat with us about what things have worked? Do you have ideas about doing things differently? If you are keen to get involved, drop our farming team a message at SAllison@soilassociation.org, or give us a call on 0131 666 2474.

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