A West Virginia University professor will be able to further evaluate hornfaced bees (Osmia cornifrons) for blueberry pollination thanks to a research and education grant from the Northeast Region Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (NESARE) Program.
Todd West, assistant professor of horticulture at the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences, was awarded $96,341 in funding for the four-year project slated to begin this year.
In 2005, West was awarded a NESARE partnership grant to conduct an initial evaluation of hornfaced bees and compare them to other potential blueberry pollinators such as honeybees and bumblebees.
�€?In the initial study, hornfaced bees were found to be capable of pollinating blueberry bushes as well as or better than the other pollinators studied,�€? West said.
Over the next four years, West will expand upon his initial findings and will determine population density requirements, cultivar preferences and grower evaluation of hornfaced bee use on site, all of which will help determine the cost of pollinating with them.
Typically, since pollination is a critical factor in successful blueberry crops, honeybees are used as supplemental pollinators; however, honeybees are aggressive, high-maintenance and their population is declining.
Hornfaced bees have been successfully used in apple production since 1970 when they were introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture Bee Research Lab in Beltsville , Md.
They are non-aggressive and require minimal hive maintenance. Unlike honeybees, they are only active six to eight weeks a year and are removed from the production area after pollination. Their active period, from April to June, coincides with blueberry blossom time.
“The hornfaced bees may allow growers to be more sustainable by having efficient pollinators that are easy to manage and eliminates the possibility of customers being stung,”West said.
One hundred blueberry growers in the Northeast will be surveyed in the fall and 25 will be used to evaluate the bees in their production. Over a two-year period, the likes, dislikes, successes and failures of these growers will be tracked and recorded.
�€?With the decline of native pollinators and with the intensity of honeybee upkeep being problematic for small farms, we want to find a pollinator that is more sustainable and conducive to small and medium U-pick operations,�€? West said.