Bee cages enhance crop productivity
BY SYLIVA ALLEN
SPECIAL TO YUMA SUN
When people think of where bees congregate, they generally think inside the box – beehives. The folks at Sakata Seed America Inc. think outside the box – bee cages.
Designed to confine bees to boost pollination and thus increase production, the seed company’s cages, located east of Yuma on Highway 95 at Avenue 6E, also help prevent cross pollination.
Inside the company’s Quonset-style enclosures, the bees go to work pollinating cantaloupe and watermelon plants that grow inside on trellises to produce seed. In the winter, the bees will pollinate broccoli and cauliflower, said Mike Edwards, the company’s Southwest production zone manager.
Held inside the cages, the bees are more effective as pollinators because they are confined to the specific area in which the crops are grown.
Edwards said that the use of cages has increased the seed company’s productivity.
This is significant when one considers that pollination is necessary for the improvement or yield of 39 of the world’s 57 major crops, Claire Brittain states in “Science for Environment Policy”: European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol.
“We are able to produce many varieties in one area using cages,” said Edwards. “This allows us to keep them from cross pollination of varieties.” He says that in open field production, they would need two miles between varieties of cantaloupes to prevent cross pollination because of bee flight.
The second reason for the effectiveness of the cages is the ability to grow plants vertically, as has been done in Japan for more than 10 years, Edwards said. This growing method allows growers to place more plants in each cage.
“We are producing seed, so more plants per cage means more seed,” he said.
The cages benefit the bees, too. Their captivity within the translucent cages offers protection from potentially lethal pesticides and parasitic predators they might otherwise encounter in their busy trips to collect pollen in a free-roaming environment. Some pesticides have been suspected of causing “colony collapse disease” that has hit the bee industry hard (although other researchers say that other factors may contribute to the problem).
Whatever the cause for the decline in honeybees over the past decade - pathogens, parasites or theft - losses are reportedly 30 percent or higher in the United States and Europe, said Elizabeth Grossman in an April 30, 2013, article from Yale University, “Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture,” published in Yale’s Environment 360.
“Many U.S. beekeepers experienced losses of 40 to 50 percent or more,” she said.
In light of this, the importance of bee protection cannot be underestimated.
Bee theft, a growing threat, has also created shortages. Edwards at Sakata said that during pollination, bee theft is not an issue.
“Once we place bees in the cage they stay the full length of pollination,” said Edwards. After pollination is completed, a hired bee keeper removes them.
Each year the company will use 30 to 40 pollination cages, he noted.
Sakata Seeds’ cages – each measuring 60 by 100 feet – might be mistaken for plant hot houses because of their resemblance to some hot houses seen elsewhere.
Whatever the crop, bees play a major role in pollination. Bee cages have been shown to improve the crop yield, essential to providing food for a global population.