HONEY BEES INCREASE SOUTHERN COTTON YIELDS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Cotton producers and beekeepers in Alabama could find a mutually beneficial relationship with their commodities, according to a recent study performed by researchers at Alabama A & M University.
The widespread use of transgenic Bt cotton varieties in the southeastern U.S. has allowed many farmers to dramatically reduce applications of broad-spectrum insecticides. As a result, insect pollinators, including honey bees, are returning to cotton fields, according the university's report.
The two-year study, conducted by Rufina N. Ward and Kenneth E Ward in the Alabama A & M Department of Plant and Soil Science, showed a significant positive impact of supplemental honey bees on cotton yield.
Upland cotton is self-fertile; the pollen needed to fertilize seeds and produce a mature boll can come from the flower producing the boll. However, cotton breeders have long recognized that self-pollinated blossoms usually don't produce quite as many seeds or as much lint as cross-pollinated flowers, according to research results.
Several investigators demonstrated increased yields in cotton that were artificially cross-pollinated. Saturation pollination in areas at the rate of 1/2 colony of honey bees per acre increased cotton production by 19.5 percent over areas depending only upon natural pollinators.
Because boll weevil eradication and the use of transgenic Bt-cotton varieties are dramatically reducing insecticide use on cotton over much of the southeastern U.S., it may now be possible to establish and or maintain populations of pollinators, especially honey bees, in many cotton-producing areas that are large enough to significantly improve cotton production. This could benefit cotton producers and beekeepers alike; cotton is an excellent source of nectar for honey production and in some areas is an important late-season nectar source when other sources are scarce.
Alabama A&M researchers said the apparent honeybee impact on cotton yield in such a small study suggests the need for additional research to cover larger areas.