After their long winter ‘sleep’ bumblebee queens are gently woken up so that they can start breeding their colonies at Koppert Biological Systems’ production plants for the start of their valuable pollination work. The global specialist in biological crop protection has been producing bumblebees for pollination purposes for more than 25 years and is now delivering millions of these efficient and effective pollinators again for the strawberry season. The number of naturally occurring pollinators have been in decline for a number of years and there is a growing trend to introduce bumblebees in greenhouses and plastic tunnel production of strawberries and other soft fruits.
World attention for the importance of pollinators
Interviewed on the Dutch television programme, EenVandaag, in the wake United Nations report which stated that 40% of invertebrate pollinators such as bees and butterflies now face extinction, Pollination Production Manager at Koppert Biological Systems, Remco Huvermann, said it highlighted the important role commercially bred pollinators played in agriculture, both now and in the future. ‘The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has drawn world attention to the need for a reliable and healthy source of pollinators to secure the world’s food production.’
Bumblebees vital for strawberry crops in Europe
Huvermann explains that bumblebees have proved to be efficient and effective pollinators of strawberries, other soft fruit crops and tomatoes. This is due to their high pollen transfer capacity. They are active from early morning to late evening and fly well in poor light conditions. ‘Koppert’s bumblebees help to boost yields by promoting better fruit set which leads to higher average fruit weight, fewer misshapen fruits and a longer shelf life. This has made Natupol bumblebees the standard product for berry pollination,’ says Huvermann who has devoted more than two decades to refining the procedure for breeding bumblebee colonies and building innovative box hives. In response to the growing demand for these pollinators, Koppert distribution points worldwide now have the highest availability of commercial hives for growers. Units in Slovakia, Turkey and Mexico ensure that Koppert bumblebees are now used in greenhouses and open field crops around the world (see bumblebee production video).
Koppert bumblebees at work in the UK
The UK strawberry pollination season starts as early as February for a small number of greenhouse growers. ‘The aim is to have the first UK strawberries on the supermarket shelves in March,’ says the General Manager of Koppert UK, David Foster. ‘There are very few pollinating insects around in the cold British winter, so commercial bumblebees are absolutely essential for guaranteed class one fruit production. It all starts with my initial forecast in October, based on historical sales data and local knowledge of what is happening in the soft fruit industry in the UK,’ says Foster. ‘The selling season starts in December. Even though all the UK strawberries are grown under some form of protection, the weather plays an important role and it can be difficult to predict the exact moment the grower will need their hives. This is why we are working closely with our customers to ensure the best availability of the bumblebee colonies. We recommend supplying the hives a little early rather than too late. Take a look at what our customers said recently’, adds Foster (watch the videos: S&A Group | NFCC)
The British native species, Bombus Terrestris Audax, is bred in Koppert’s Slovakia production plant especially for the UK market. Pre-ordered hives can reach growers within 48-hours. In the UK some 4536 hectares of strawberries are grown in plastic tunnels. A further 225 hectares are grown in greenhouses. The UK is the biggest consumer of strawberries in Europe, followed closely by Germany.
Spain is one of the biggest growers of strawberries in Europe with nearly 6000 ha devoted to different type of berry production in the Huelva region. Most of the strawberries grown are for export to different West European countries. The province is a hotbed of research in the search for new varieties.
Spain enjoys a milder winter and the sale of commercial hives starts as early as November, peaking in December and January. Cooler conditions at this time of year mean that the naturally occurring honey bees are not working optimally. The General Manager for Koppert Spain, Valter Ceppi, says some 400 hectares are serviced by commercially produced bumblebees. Koppert bumblebees are transported from the production plant in Slovakia by road and reach their Spanish destinations within 24 hours.
Open field production in Poland
Some 99 per cent of strawberry production is on open fields in Poland, although production in plastic tunnels has grown over the past five years, says Koppert’s Polish Outdoor Project Manager, Tomasz Domanski.
‘The potential for using bumblebees for pollination will increase as more and more growers discover the benefits of protected growing. There is an increasing demand for a pre-season supply of strawberries encouraging growers to cultivate in tunnels. Koppert consultants are already receiving many queries about the use and application of Natupol products. Our Polish customers have the advantage of readily available stocks from our production unit in nearby Slovakia,’ says Domanski.
In Poland most of the strawberries are for domestic consumption and some are exported to eastern countries. The demand for organically grown strawberries is still small but growing each year..
The hives supplied by Koppert in Europe and other parts of the world are produced with great care and under veterinary supervision, thereby ensuring that they are of the very best quality. Strawberries pollinated by bumblebees gives the fruits the best start.