NC State Extension Publications

Honey Bees as Pollinators

Many crops require insects to move pollen from one flower to another. Pollination ensures fruit set, proper development, more fruit, and viable seed. Honey bees are the most important insect pollinator for crops grown in North Carolina.

  • Vegetable and fruit crops that require honey bees include cucumbers, blueberries, watermelons, apples, squash, strawberries, melons, and peaches.
  • Forage crops that benefit from honey bee pollination include alfalfa, cotton, peanuts, and soybeans.
  • Averaged over the last five years, honey bees have directly accounted for approximately $96 million in annual fruit and vegetable production (67.9%) and approximately $186 million in total annual crop productivity (24.5%) (see Table 1).

Since the mid-1980s, honey bees have been plagued by two exotic parasitic mites that can kill entire colonies if left untreated. The result has been a dramatic drop in the state’s honey bee population.

  • The estimated number of managed hives in the state has declined from a high of 180,000 hives before the mite introduction to only 100,000 hives currently.
  • Most wild honey bee colonies, which also served as pollinators, have been wiped out by these mites.

It is now necessary that growers of bee-dependent crops rent hives to ensure proper and successful pollination.

  • Pollination rentals often require pollination contracts between growers and beekeepers to ensure an adequate number of honey bees in the crop during the bloom period.
  • An estimated 240,000 hives will be required for pollination in 2007 (see Table 2), which exceeds the number of managed hives in the state. Thus it is vital to contract pollinators well ahead of the date they are needed.

To locate beekeepers in your area, contact your local Cooperative Extension center or the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.

Tables

Table 1. The value of North Carolina agriculture directly attributable to honey bee pollination.
Total Value of Production ($1000s of dollars) Value Attributable to Honey Bees ($1000s of dollars)
Fruits and Vegetables 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 D P 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 5 Year Avg.
Apples 22,205.000 17,103.000 16,630.000 13,859.000 19,799.000 100% 90% 19,984.500 15,392.700 14,967.000 12,473.100 17,819.100 16,127.280
Blueberries 22,534.000 34,777.000 2,235.000 36,702.000 48,745.000 100% 90% 20,280.600 31,299.300 29,011.500 33,031.800 43,870.500 31,498.740
Brambles 583.440 938.250 1,003.920 1,003.920 1,025.280 80% 90% 420.077 675.540 722.822 722.822 738.202 655.893
Cucumbers (fresh) 12,075.000 13,260.000 11,340.000 8,400.000 13,299.000 90% 90% 9,780.750 10,740.600 9,185.400 6,804.000 10,772.190 9,456.588
Cucumbers (pickled) 23,490.000 23,612.000 19,404.000 19,952.000 10,260.000 90% 90% 19,026.900 19,125.720 15,717.240 16,161.120 8,310.600 15,668.316
Grapes 2,934.000 2,989.000 3,366.000 3,653.000 4,624.000 10% 10% 29.340 29.890 33.660 36.530 46.240 35.132
Melons 20,000.000 20,000.000 20,000.000 20,000.000 20,000.000 80% 90% 14,400.000 14,400.000 14,400.000 14,400.000 14,400.000 14,400.000
Peaches 3,500.000 2,400.000 2,940.000 5,100.000 5,115.000 60% 80% 1,680.000 1,152.000 1,411.200 2,448.000 2,455.200 1,829.280
Pumpkins 2,000.000 2,000.000 2,000.000 2,000.000 2,000.000 90% 10% 180.000 180.000 180.000 180.000 180.000 180.000
Squash 10,260.000 8,430.000 9,000.000 9,860.000 11,480.000 90% 10% 923.400 758.700 810.000 887.400 1,033.200 882.540
Strawberries 19,125.000 15,300.000 15,840.000 18,525.000 19,440.000 20% 10% 382.500 306.000 316.800 370.500 388.800 352.920
Watermelons 9,503.000 6,825.000 6,300.000 7,259.000 12,960.000 70% 90% 5,986.890 4,299.750 43,969.000 4,573.170 8,164.800 5,398.722
Subtotal
(% of total value)
148,209.440 147,634.250 140,058.920 146,313.920 168,747.280 93,074.957
62.8%
98,360.200
66.6%
90,724.622
64.8%
92,088.442
62.9%
108,178.832
64.1%
96,485.411
64.2%
Forage Crops
Alfalfa (hay) 5,000.000 5,940.000 3,120.000 106,080.000 115,872.000 100% 60% 3,000.000 3,564.000 1,872.000 63,648.000 69,523.200 28,321.440
Cotton (lint) 163,263.000 322,051.000 253,286.000 315,910.000 281,424.000 20% 80% 26,122.080 51,528.160 40,525.760 50,545.600 45,027.840 42,749.888
Cotton (seed) 25,704.000 37,692.000 41,795.000 38,548.000 3,945.000 20% 80% 4,112.640 6,030.720 6,687.200 6,167.680 631.200 4,725.888
Peanuts 45,990.000 73,280.000 77,112.000 56,448.000 49,459.000 10% 20% 919.800 1,465.600 1,542.240 1,128.960 989.180 1,209.156
Soybeans 174,305.000 306,180.000 257,550.000 222,329.000 274,176.000 10% 50% 8,715.250 15,309.000 12,877.500 11,116.450 13,708.800 12,345.400
Subtotal
(% of total value)
414,262.000 745,143.000 632,863.000 739,315.000 724,876.000 42,869.770
10.3%
77,897.480
10.5%
63,504.700
10.0%
132,606.690
17.9%
129,880.220
17.9%
89,351.772
13.7%
TOTAL
(% of total value)
562,471.440 892,777.250 772,921.920 885,628.920 893,623.280 135,944.727
24.2%
176,257.680
19.7%
154,229.322
20.0%
224,695.132
25.4%
238,059.052
26.6%
185,837.183
23.2%
D = Dependency of crop on insect pollination for fruit set
P = Proportion of insect pollinators that are honey bees
Resources: Delaplane, K. S. and D. F. Mayer. (2000). Crop Pollination by Bees. CABI Publishing, Cambridge.
McGregor, S. E. (1976). Insect Pollination Of Cultivated Crop Plants. Agriculture Handbook No. 496, USDA-ARS, U.S. Gov. Print. Office, Washington, DC.
Morse, R. A. & N. W. Calderone. (2000). The value of honey bees as pollinators of U.S. crops in 2000. Bee Culture 128: 1-15. National Agricultural Statistics Service

Table 2. Estimated number of hives required for North Carolina pollination in 2007.
Estimated Values for 2007
Crop Recommended Hives/Acre Acreage Number of Hives Needed
Apples 1.5 6,740 10,110
Blueberries 3.0 5,240 15,720
Brambles 0.8 245 196
Cucumbers (fresh) 2.2 5,510 12,122
Cucumbers (pickled) 2.2 78,360 172,392
Melons 1.5 4,000 6,000
Peaches 0.2 1,200 240
Pumpkins 1.5 1,500 2,250
Squash 1.5 3,730 5,595
Strawberries 3.5 1,460 5,110
Watermelons 1.8 6,090 10,962
TOTAL 114,075 240,697

Author:

Professor and Extension Apiculturist
Entomology

Publication date: Jan. 20, 2015

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