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Pollination and the deciduous fruit industry

By Elise-Marie Steenkamp

The deciduous fruit industry is almost totally dependent on a healthy honeybee population and a viable beekeeping industry.

It is therefore important that beekeepers and the industry regularly engage and share future challenges and growth projections. Mariette Kotze, Hortgro’s Group Operations Manager, recently spoke at the Western Cape Beekeepers Association’s annual general meeting sharing the industry’s data and growth projections with beekeepers.

According to Kotze pollination is a critical component of integrated orchard management practices. Obtaining an optimal fruit set requires the correct orchard design (selection and positioning of pollinizers), flower management (pruning and thinning), control of alternative forage, as well as the proper introduction and usage of adequate strength honeybee colonies. “It is important that growers understand how pollination works and why it is important to only use registered beekeepers to ensure good pollination practices.”

Kotze said that the deciduous fruit industry equates to 54 294 hectares of fruit trees of which 69% is pome fruit and 31% is stone fruit. “The important fruit types that require annual pollination are apples, pears, fresh apricots, and plums. Altogether 43 999 hectares (81% of the total pome and stone fruit plantings) require pollination.”

According to Hortgro’s calculations the entire industry currently requires around 91 000 hives for pollination. “That is 1.5 pollinations per hive. Over the next five years we expect an increase in excess of 100 000 hives,” Kotze said.

The cost of pollination for the 2019 season was R141 317 292 million. “If we look at pollination costs as a percentage of direct pre-harvest costs, it is estimated to be around 3%.” The average cost per hive for 2019 was R980. The number of hives per hectare needed for apples was 2.5; for pears 5; apricots (fresh) 2; and for plums 6 hives per hectare. Between 70 – 90% of the deciduous fruit industry is dependent on pollination.

Kotze said that one of the biggest problems beekeepers around the world face is habitat destruction. This, while agriculture intensifies and more and more bees are dependent on smaller and smaller pieces of land for foraging. Due to climate change, agriculture has seen a shift to new cultivars and alternative crops being grown in the Western Cape. As agri-intensification steamrolls ahead, so does the demand for more bees. It is important that the two industries align their needs and expectations, Kotze said.

There are many challenges for both, such as the use of chemical vs biological control of pests; climate change and drought; the removal of eucalyptus trees that are an important food source for bees during the dry months; new production technologies such as the use of nets. And increased demand for contract pollination.

As growers are paying more and more for healthy, vibrant hives, some have even turned to beekeeping themselves. Kotze pointed out that by law, anyone that owns a hive has to be registered as a beekeeper. She also urged producers to formally confirm bookings of pollination units well in advance to avoid disappointment and manage risks.

 

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