Diligent helpers

Diligent helpers

7 May 2021 News from the Company

In April 2021, 12 million leafcutter bees were delivered to the Zashchitnoe farm (Kursk region). They arrived in Russia on a special flight from Canada under particular temperature conditions. The bees have a special mission: to pollinate lucerne on an industrial scale and thus increase yields by many times.

For the third year in a row, EkoNiva continues its unique project related to leafcutter bees. To recall, in 2019, for the first time, about 5 million bees in the form of larvae were delivered from Canada to Zashchitnoe. That was the number needed to pollinate lucerne on 65 hectares. This very area was designated as the experimental field in the first year of the project. A year later, the trial area was increased to 400 ha and 30 million more bees were brought onto the farm.

"Our experiment has proven its effectiveness," Andrej Straub, PhD in agricultural sciences and project leader reports. "Thanks to the leafcutter bees, lucerne yields have tripled. And that is not the maximum value. For the future, we expect a fivefold the increase in crop yield."

The secret of the leafcutter bees that have already become familiar at EkoNiva is quite simple. Lucerne is the highest-yielding and a very fast-growing forage plant with very high protein content. However, there are difficulties with seed yield. Lucernes need cross-pollination. Only wild bees can provide this.

“The special feature of lucerne flowers is that the stamens and pistil are enclosed in the flower”, Andrej Straub tells. “When an insect tries to open the flower, the pollen is protected against the 'visitor'. This gives the insect a strong punch and can even injure it. “

The most frequent pollinators of plants are honey bees, but they are very reluctant to visit lucerne. When they do, they sit on the side of the flower to collect nectar. Thus the flower remains unopened and cannot be pollinated. The art of cleverly avoiding the dangerous punch of the stamens is mastered by wild bees such as the leafcutter bees. Farmers from Canada have bred these bees especially for the pollination of lucernes. In Russia there have been only a few attempts to do so. EkoNiva has therefore taken on this major project.

"Leafcutter bees do not fly long distances compared to honey bees", Andrej Straub continues. "Therefore they are not fussy and satisfied with the food that is found nearby. They cleverly open the flower and collect the pollen from the lucerne, pollinating it and providing huge benefit. This year, we have more than 10 million natural bee offspring. However, this quantity is not sufficient. That is why we have to buy bees from Canada every year. Our next goal is to ensure breeding at our farm."

This season, more than 300 hectares of lucerne will be pollinated by bees.