A Council of Agriculture research team in Miaoli County have developed an environmentally friendly crop pollination technique using honey bees that promises to contribute to natural and healthy crop cultivation, one of the researchers said yesterday.
The technique involves specially designed portable and temporary hives made from cardboard that are used to transport bees to areas of crops enclosed by netting. A box containing pollen is placed at the entrance to the temporary hive, coating the insects with the powder as they leave.
The bees pollinate the crops much more intensively and effectively than would otherwise be possible. The government has approved patents for both the temporary hive and the pollination box.
There has been an alarming decline in bee populations across the US and Europe since 2006 that experts believe represents a potential ecological and environmental catastrophe that some say could lead to a collapse of the global food chain.
In light of the problem, known as “colony collapse disorder,” the Miaoli Agricultural Research and Extension Station established the system, which uses the temporary hives to transport locally raised Italian bees to enclosed crop areas.
The technique can be also be applied to open fields as well as the netted areas, station chief Hou Feng-wu (侯鳳舞) said.
“Bee pollination not only saves labor costs of NT$40,000 [US$1,200] per hectare for artificial pollination, but also reduces the percentage of malformed fruit,” Hou said.
Hou said that although Taiwan has not seen a bee decline disaster like the one in the US, his station was working with the system as a preventative measure.
He quoted scientists as speculating there are probably at least four major reasons causing the decline in bee populations: viruses; pesticides; toxins from genetically modified crops; and possible interference by radio waves from cellular telephone transmissions, which can disorient bees.
He noted that the Miaoli station has developed its own techniques in judging whether the pollinating bees are healthy or not and to boost their health by feeding them a formula made of traditional Chinese herbal medicine.
Hou said there were a total of 631 beekeeping operations around the country, with 60,000 to 70,000 hives and more than 1.2 billion bees.
Beekeepers churn out NT$1 billion in honey and royal jelly per year, while crop outputs from bee pollination could be worth as much as NT$50 billion a year, Hou said.
“Bees are fully deserving of their title, ‘the wings of agriculture,’” Hou said.