Positive results with use of bumblebees for Straughn Farms - Florida

Koppert: Tell me about your farming operation:

Straughn Farms: Straughn Farms is the largest blueberry growing operation in the state of Florida, with farms in 3 different geographic locations in Alachua County, which is located in North Central Florida about 2 hours north of Orlando. The farm began to raise blueberries in the mid 1980 s all of this acreage is high bush blueberries. Besides blueberries we also raise watermelons in the spring and beef cattle.

Koppert: What was it about bumblebees that made you initially give them a try?

Straughn Farms: About 4 years ago we experienced cool wet weather during pollination which for us normally begins in late January and runs through late February. Because of this weather the honeybees that we were using were not active and we had a light crop.

Koppert: What are the major challenges that you face with pollination?

Straughn Farms: The weather is the biggest challenge during this time period we can have highs in the 60 s and 70 s but lows in the 20 s to 40 s. For example this past spring (2009) we experienced 10 freeze events during pollination, 2 of the freeze events resulted in temperatures in the low 20 s. With those cool temperatures it may not warm up enough during the day to get honeybees to fly.

Koppert: What were your initial thoughts when you unloaded the bumblebees off the truck?

Straughn Farms: One of our employees got stung trying to ensure that the doors were properly positioned, so my initial reaction was that these were some mean bees.

Koppert: By the end of the season what was your impression:

Straughn Farms: It seemed like they worked harder than the honeybees that we had been used to using. They started earlier in the day pollinating and worked during the cool weather that can be characteristic of that time of year. No one else got stung so they were not as aggressive as we had originally thought.

Koppert: How do you measure the payoff from bumblebees?

Straughn Farms: We see more bee activity and since we started using bumblebees and we ve had consistently good crops of blueberries regardless of the weather.

Koppert: What advice would you pass along to a grower trying bumblebees for the first time?

Straughn Farms: Try them for yourself and look for the bee activity. We spread the hives evenly out at our 3 farms, so we can be sure to get the maximum benefit from the bumblebees. With farms that are 40 +miles apart we can have quite a range of microclimates and different weather patterns during the critical pollination time period.

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