Patagonia foods: Better Blueberries with bumblebees

With an estimated blueberry area of 12,400 hectares, Chile is the second world blueberry producer. The country is main blueberry exporter in the southern hemisphere. Patagonia foods is a large blueberry grower with 4 production sites on different locations in Chile, with 110 total hectares, 20 in the north and 90 in the south zone of Chile. In 2008 they started using bumblebees as pollinators. Orchards manager Guido Córdoba shares his experience.

Guido Córdoba: “The blueberry orchards are mostly found in cooler areas, mainly with highbush varieties. Here in our Freire plant, we grow Legacy and Brigitta. For the pollination, we used to rely on honeybees. But we have a relatively cool and damp climate, especially around the flowering season. This means that honeybees are often not very active. That is why in 2008 we decided to use bumblebees in combination with the honeybees. That turned out to be a very good decision.”

We used to deploy 10 honeybee hives per hectare. Now, we find that a combination of seven bumblebee hives and four honeybee colonies gives the best overall results. When the weather is fine, the honeybees have the advantage of their great number of workers. But when the weather turns bad, the bumblebees are our insurance policy. They are our guarantee for optimal pollination.”

Paco Lozano, Biobest’s technical advisor for Chile, who works together closely with Agroconnexion, the distributor of Biobest products in Chile has a sound biological explanation for Guido’s observations. He explains: ”Bumblebees have all the characteristics to be excellent blueberry pollinators. They visit more flowers per minute compared with honeybees. When they visit a flower, they fiercely shake the stamen, which causes the pollen to dislocate from the anthers. This process is called sonification and it is unique to bumblebees. It greatly increases the pollen release.

Bumblebees are also very active pollinators. They are superbly fitted for colder climates, as they start working at 5°C, whilst honeybees remain inactive under 15 °C. Bumblebees will also perform on gloomy days and in windy conditions. In Chile, this increases pollination levels. Research shows clearly that bumblebee pollination results in a higher yield and bigger and more uniform berries.

Alvaro Vargas, technical advisor for Agroconnexion is enthousiastic about the market developments for Biobest bumblebees in Chile: “More and more growers recognize the importance of using bumblebees and they appreciate that we deliver a high-quality product at par with international market standards. We see a lot of opportunity for growth in blueberry and other crops.”

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