Pollination research receives funding boost

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) has been granted a total of $5.2 million to administer a new R&D project that will look at ways to secure pollination for a more productive agricultural sector.

The funding for the project was provided through the Australian Government’s ‘Rural R&D for Profit’ programme.

The four-year pollination project will increase the profitability and security of pollinator-dependent crops by improving the health, diversity and abundance of pollinators (such as bees, birds, insects and butterflies) on farms.

The project will look into the best ways to manage and improve natural resources on or near farms, and in particular the critical food resources that support managed and wild pollinators. The project will determine the best approach to manage the biosecurity risk posed by the Varroa mite on farms.

The project should realise significant productivity and profitability gains for farmers by improving yield and rates of pollination. It will also assess the contribution of pollinators to nine crops and will re-establish native vegetation to support pollinator food and nesting resources and use new technologies to communicate the findings to crop farmers.

RIRDC’s Managing Director, John Harvey said many horticultural crops in particular are heavily dependent on pollinators to be viable and productive so the need to ensure their health and sustainability is vitally important.

“The eventual establishment of Varroa mite in Australia is considered likely so the focus of the project is on mitigating this impact by improving the capacity for agricultural land to support hived honey bees - which can be managed to reduce the impact of Varroa - and native pollinators like native bees, buttlerflies and flys, which are immune to Varroa mite,” Mr Harvey said.

“Native pollinators alone have been estimated to contribute $2.5 billion worth in crop pollination and increasing these services will lead to higher returns.

“Revegetation on or around farms that supports pollinators has been shown to enhance crop pollination and is an established strategy in major horticultural regions in Europe and the USA, but not yet in Australia.

“Importantly, improved pollination will improve the quantity, quality and reliability of production even before Varroa establishes in Australia.

“Up to 70 per cent of pollination dependent crops rely on feral honey bees for pollination. For Australia proactive measures are essential since Varroa mite is expected to devastate the current free pollination services provided by these feral honey bees.”

  • The pollination R&D project partners contributing cash are:
  • Horticulture Innovation Australia
  • Native Vegetation Council
  • O’Connor NRM
  • Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
  • South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources
  • Trees for Life
  • University of Adelaide
  • University of New England
  • University of Sydney

In-kind contributions for the project are being provided by Almond Board of Australia, Apple & Pear Australia, Australian Mango Industry Association, Australian Melon Association, Costa Group, Greening Australia, Lucerne Australia, Northern and York NRM Board, South Australian Apiarist Association, and Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network.

RIRDC is the managing agency for the project. The project will also be funded through partner contributions which when combined with the Australian Government grant takes the total value of the pollination project to $13 million.