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Feb. 28, 2013

Integrated crop pollination may be key to success with many Michigan crops

An international study revealing the importance of wild pollinators for production of fruits and vegetables is providing new insights that may help improve Michigan’s pollination-dependent crops.

Those crops, including blueberries, raspberries, apples, cherries and pickling cucumbers, have a farm-gate value of more than $400 million each year and add significantly to the state’s economy.

The research team, including MSU AgBioResearch entomologist Rufus Isaacs, found that fruit set – the proportion of flowers turning into nuts or fruits – was considerably lower in sites with few wild insects visiting the crop flowers. Therefore, losses of wild insects from landscapes will likely have negative effects on both natural biodiversity and agricultural harvests.

The study involved 50 researchers with data from farms in 20 countries and 41 crop systems around the world. The results of the study, by Lucas Garibaldi and his co-authors, appeared in the current issue of Science Express .

“The results highlight that we should be exploring a diversity of approaches to support pollination in these crops, such as building wild bee populations on farms and bringing in alternative managed bees that can complement honeybees to help ensure that crops reach their yield potential,” explained Isaacs, a professor in the MSU Department of Entomology

Isaacs is heading a new, nationwide integrated crop pollination project, funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Specialty Crops Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will make use of the results from the international study.

In Michigan, Isaacs is working with Larry Gut, MSU professor of entomology and AgBioResearch scientist, and Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center and a district Extension horticulture educator, to test integrated approaches at blueberry, apple and cherry farms.

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