Collaboration drives a secure pollination future

13.07.21

An extensive four-year pollination research project across South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland, involving research teams from four universities and 22 research partners across a total of eight pollination dependant crops, has uncovered a raft of findings to educate growers on pollination resilience and optimisation. The project focussed on assessing ways to strengthen pollination security and resilience and optimise crop yields, by identifying insects that contribute to crop pollination and how they interact with the landscape. 

The cross-sector collaboration project, Securing Pollination for more Productive Agriculture: Guidelines for effective pollinator management and stakeholder adoption was delivered as part of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Rural R&D for Profit Program.

Educating growers leads to adoption

Working across pollination dependant crops including apple, blueberry, raspberry, cherry, watermelon, lucerne, canola and almonds, the project uncovered a raft of findings to educate growers on which insects typically visited their farms and orchards and how they can support pollination through considered vegetation planting.

Whether it be understanding the impact of hail netting on pollination diversity in Queensland apple orchards, or providing recommendations on planting to support insect visitor diversity of mango orchards, the project delivered tailored outcomes for each crop.

But the real strength of the project is the cross-sector collaboration that has led to broader industry adoption of the research and brought greater credibility to the project.

Early in the project, the researchers from the University of Adelaide established a steering committee in which all industry bodies (Almond Board, Canola growers, Lucerne Australia, Apple and Pear Growers Association SA, SA Apiarist Association), NGOs (Trees for Life, Greening Australia), and government organisations (Natural Resource Management boards, Primary Industries and Regions SA, Department of Environment) and O’Connor NRM were represented.

These collaborations helped greatly with the uptake of the project, as all partners and industry representatives were involved in developing outcomes and outputs from the start.

AgriFutures Australia Project Manager, Paul Blackshaw said the project owed its success to its culture of collaboration.

“This project had quite a broad scope, with research undertaken across different crops, regions and by organisations with different structures,” said Mr Blackshaw.

“But by bringing disparate stakeholders along the journey from the very beginning, the project was able to ensure that its common goal of supporting pollinator density and diversity could be met across the board.”

Another outcome of cross-sector collaboration is the development of a national database of all Australian bees, consisting not only of the bees related to crops relevant to the project, but bees caught during various PhD projects undertaken by contributing researchers.

Paving the way for future pollination

The research project has paved the way for future work to explore the role landscape plays in supporting pollination.

For example, the ANU research team is currently working with Victorian berry growers, local government, and the Wheen Bee Foundation with the goal of establishing a next phase project on native bees in peri-urban horticulture.

An online interactive tool has also been developed, targeted at apple, canola and lucerne crops in South Australia, due to their pollinator dependency, which allows growers to plan for revegetation.

And the University of Adelaide continues to collaborate with the University of Sydney in assessing honey bee hive densities.

By breaking through geographical, organisational and industry barriers and fostering a culture of collaboration, the project team has been able to uncover and address cross-sector challenges and opportunities for the future of pollination.

The project developed an understanding of the nature and extent of the main threats to pollination security and found proximity and composition of native vegetation influences the abundance and diversity of crop pollinating species. The advice is to plant a wide range of local, easy to grow native species, which will ensure floral support is available nearly year-round, ensuring pollination services remain reliable and resilient in the future.

The research allowed the team to pinpoint revegetation strategies to support pollinator food and nesting resource needs. AgriFutures Australia and researchers will continue to work with industry groups to extend research findings, strategies and tools to growers and stakeholders.

The final report is available via the AgriFutures Australia website.