Agri­cul­ture and bees — Inter­ac­tion between crop rota­tion, flower strips, pol­li­na­tion, and yield

Did you know that after cat­tle and pigs, bees are the most impor­tant ani­mals in agri­cul­ture? The yield per­for­mance of many crops in crop pro­duc­tion, hor­ti­cul­ture and fruit grow­ing  depends on the pol­li­na­tion per­for­mance of bees.

From crop rota­tion to increas­ing yield per­for­mance with bees

Bees are an impor­tant com­po­nent of many ecosys­tems. Their bio­log­i­cal diver­si­ty also forms a fun­da­men­tal basis with­in agri­cul­ture. The agri­cul­tur­al use of these ecosys­tems has always shaped our cul­tur­al land­scapes and at the same time pro­vides bees and oth­er pol­li­na­tors with habi­tat and food. The imple­men­ta­tion of good pro­fes­sion­al prac­tice and farm man­age­ment can not only lead to high­er yields, but also improve the habi­tat for bees. Crop rota­tion plan­ning plays a cru­cial role here. For exam­ple, grain legumes can be inte­grat­ed into the crop rota­tion to improve the soil. They main­tain soil per­for­mance, increase nitro­gen sup­ply, and improve crop rota­tion qual­i­ty. As main and catch crops, they have a pos­i­tive effect on the agri­cul­tur­al ecosys­tem. In addi­tion, they reduce pro­duc­tion costs by reduc­ing the use of fer­tilis­er and pes­ti­cides. Legumes sup­ply the bees with pollen and nec­tar, which they can use to sur­vive dur­ing peri­ods of food scarci­ty. Thus, agri­cul­ture and bees are in con­stant inter­ac­tion. The yield of oilseeds and grain legumes, for exam­ple, are strong­ly influ­enced by pol­li­na­tion by bees or oth­er flower-pol­li­nat­ing insects. More than 200 crop species world­wide depend on pol­li­na­tion. The yield of oilseed rape, for exam­ple, can be increased by about 20% through pol­li­na­tion. For these rea­sons, the habi­tats for wild bees and oth­er pol­li­na­tors have been made quite diverse and mul­ti­func­tion­al by Euro­pean agri­cul­ture in recent years. Open spaces and field mar­gins with wild­flow­ers and oth­er non-cul­ti­vat­ed plant types are part of the land­scape in many places. They pro­vide habi­tats and food sources for bees, oth­er insect and ani­mal species.

Bee on oilseed rape

Pho­to by Man­fred Richter on Pix­abay

Use plan­ning of arable land: flower strips, crop rota­tion, wild herbs and crop yields

Agri­cul­ture also has many dif­fer­ent ways in which to make a vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tion to the cre­ation of good liv­ing con­di­tions for bees and oth­er insects. The inte­gra­tion of flow­er­ing catch or main crops into the crop rota­tion is a pos­i­tive alter­na­tive to fal­low land in con­ven­tion­al crop pro­duc­tion. The effects are pos­i­tive for both farm­ers and bee­keep­ers: the soil struc­ture of the fields is improved, and some unde­sir­able weeds can be sup­pressed in a nat­ur­al way – with­out the use of her­bi­cides. In addi­tion, hems, wild­flower areas and flower strips pro­mote the bio­log­i­cal diver­si­ty of pol­li­nat­ing insects.

Actions such as cre­at­ing flower-rich field edges or flower strips (annu­al or peren­ni­al) as well as under­seeds such as white or crim­son clover under­neath grain or maize crops, offer a wide range of pollen and nec­tar. Under­sown seeds are par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant here, as they pro­vide a good food sup­ply in the peri­od when there is a lack of fruit and rape flow­er­ing. Yet not only do they serve as a source of food, but also as a safe place for oth­er ani­mals to hide and nest. Among them are nat­ur­al pest con­trollers, such as the hov­er­fly, which lay their lar­vae in such nich­es. These lar­vae act as the nat­ur­al ene­my of aphids. With good pro­fes­sion­al prac­tice, agri­cul­ture can pre­serve and encour­age these ben­e­fi­cial insects. Such con­ser­va­tion and pro­mo­tion­al actions can incur addi­tion­al costs, but they pay off in the long run. The cul­ti­va­tion of flow­er­ing legumes is not only a beau­ti­ful sight, but it is also par­tic­u­lar­ly good for attract­ing insects. Fur­ther­more, the cul­ti­va­tion of legumes allows the soil to be nat­u­ral­ly enriched by nitro­gen. This can lead to a reduc­tion of the min­er­al and organ­ic fer­tilis­ers sup­ply.

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Crop rotation and seed planning

Crop rota­tion and seed plan­ning

The cul­ti­vat­ed crop and vari­eties are dis­played for all fields. Any changes in the crop rota­tion or vari­ety can be planned and the cul­ti­va­tion con­di­tions and total yield quan­ti­ties can be var­ied accord­ing­ly.

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