Using the "right" bees
27 May 2020 News from the Company
Last year EkoNiva started a project that is unusual for Russian farmers – the breeding of leaf-cutter bees. Their important function is the pollination of lucerne.
On World Bee Day, 20 May 2020, 30 million leafcutter bees were transported by air from Canada to the EkoNiva farm "Zashchitnoye" in the Kursk region. There they are kept in specially manufactured chambers where they await the lucerne's flowering period. Afterwards, part of the bees will be brought to a farm in the Voronezh region.
"Lucerne is the highest-yielding and a very fast-growing forage plant with a very high protein content. However, there are difficulties with seed yield," says Andrej Straub, PhD of Agricultural Sciences and project manager. "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. 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.
In 2019, 5 million bee larvae from Canada were brought to the farm near Kursk for the first time. This is the number of bees needed to pollinate an lucerne field of 65 hectares. This year the experimental area will be extended. In the Voronezh region, bees will be brought to the Bobrov plant, a 400 hectares lucerne field.
"Leafcutter bees do not fly long distances compared to honey bees" continues Andrej Straub. "Therefore they are not fussy and satisfied with the food that is found nearby. According to the results of the first trial year, the harvest yield increased threefold. Where the leafcutter bees worked, 3.2 hundredweights of lucerne seeds were collected from each hectare. This is a good result.“
EkoNiva considers the project to be promising. Already this year there is a good chance to increase the lucerne yield up to five times.
By Tatyana Ignatenko