Improving pollination outcomes under netting

The use of netting to protect crops from hail, wind and birds is becoming increasingly popular among fruit growers but it can seriously affect pollination.

Trevor Monson, who coordinates the placement of thousands of hives each year for orchardists and other growers, says the key to getting the most from honeybees is to talk to beekeepers, ideally before the netting is bought and installed, and before pollination.

“Honeybees can become entangled in some types of netting or unable to get out of the orchard at all. Netting can also increase humidity and therefore the need for fungicides, which is detrimental to fruit set as well as honeybees,” Mr Monson said.

“Netting needs to be installed so that the ends or sides can be lifted easily during flowering, to aid pollination. Honeybees are healthier – and work better – when they have a variety of food, so it actually works in the grower’s favour if the bees can come and go to another food source.

“It’s also important not to bring in beehives too early; you need at least five per cent flower. And if you clean up under the trees before you have at least ten per cent flower, you’ll remove a vital early food source.”

Mr Monson believes more communication between growers and beekeepers will save money and angst on both sides.

“Given the investment needed to set up netting, it makes economic sense to get it right the first time. That means talking to each other and being informed – and applies equally to a range of other topics as well.

“Contracts are one way of ensuring everyone is on the same page, and everyone should have one. They can confirm the timing for introducing the bees, outline best practice on the use of pesticides, and set out quality requirements and inspection processes for the hives,” Mr Monson said.

Practical information on specific issues related to the pollination of more than 30 crops, including netting, can be found in the manual Pollination of Crops in Australia and New Zealand.

It’s aimed at improving food production and maintaining healthy bees, and has been prepared with funding from the Pollination Program, a research and development strategy jointly funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Horticulture Australia Limited and the Australian Government.