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This Bee Is Essential to Your Farm

Happy World Bee Day, Small Farm Canada Farmers!  

May 20, 2023 is World Bee Day, a day we celebrate one of agriculture’s best friends: bees! Whether it is honey production or crop pollination, these hard-working insects make a significant impact to agriculture.  

The most well-known bee is the honeybee, likely because of the prevalence of the honey industry. In Canada, there are approximately 810,496 honey producing colonies that produce about 89,700,000 pounds of honey per year.  

Although well loved, honeybees are not the only important bee in agriculture. One major pollinator that is often overlooked is the leafcutter bee.  

Leafcutter bees are small and have black, furry bodies. Unlike honeybees, leafcutter bees are solitary. This means they like to live alone and will build their nests in trees instead of in hives like honeybees. Even though they will build their nests with pieces of leaves that they bite off, they will rarely damage the plant as they only take what they need.  

Leafcutter bees are native to North America, so it is possible to recognize them naturally roaming around your wildflowers. However, leafcutter bees are such effective pollinators that some farmers, depending on their crop, will purchase leafcutters to bring to their fields.  

This is especially true for farmers that grow alfalfa seed, as alfalfa is the largest consumer of leafcutter bee pollination in the world. Commercial farmers who bring in leafcutter bees for their alfalfa have reported a tenfold increase in their pollination.  

Leafcutter bees are successful at alfalfa flower pollination because they do not “trip” the flower as a honeybee would. Tripping the flower happens when a larger bee lands on the flower, breaking the membrane that holds the keel petal and releasing the reproductive structure. When this structure pops up it releases pollen and hits the honeybee on the leaf. For this reason, honeybees avoid pollinating alfalfa, but leafcutter bees are small enough to land on the flower and reach the pollen without tripping it.  

On top of alfalfa, leafcutter bees are also great for fruit pollination because they can be controlled and released at the perfect time during the short fruit pollination window. Examples of fruits that leafcutter bees are well known to pollinate are blueberries, melons, and cranberries. Aside from fruit, leafcutter bees are also effective for hybrid canola, buckwheat, and clover. 

So, understanding how useful leafcutter bees are to your farm, what are some ways that you can support them? One method is planting cover crops. Not only will cover crops encourage healthy soil, but it will also provide these friendly insects food when other sources are scarce. Practicing low pesticide use is another mutually beneficial method for keeping bees buzzing around your field.  

By continuing to implement these and other bee-friendly practices, you can ensure leafcutter bees will stay safe and hard at work to create a future of thriving farms and ecosystems.  

Source : Small Farm Canada

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