Diversity Fuels Dividends

Bee1webAs any sustainable farmer worth his salt knows, diversity is king. Diversity of crops, diversity of soil microorganisms, diversity of cover crops, diversity of livestock, diversity of investments — the list goes on and on.

As an example of what scientists call “functional diversity,” research from North Carolina State University shows that blueberries produce more seeds and larger berries if they are visited by more diverse bee species, allowing farmers to harvest significantly more pounds of fruit per acre.

Within the blueberry fields, the researchers identified five distinct groups of bee species: honeybees, bumble bees, southeastern blueberry bees, carpenter bees and a similar collection of species that they termed small native bees.

The researchers found that for each group above one, farmers saw an increase of $311 worth of yield per acre. For example, if two bee groups pollinated a field, the boost would be $311 per acre; for three bee groups, the boost would be $622 per acre, and so on.

“We’ve shown that there is a real financial benefit associated with biodiversity,” said Hannah Burrack, co-author of the study. “The next step is to figure out how to foster that diversity in practical terms.”

This article appears in the July 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.