Sugar boosts bees' productivity
Feeding bees sugar can encourage them to
pollinate more crops.
Image: iStockphoto 

Feeding sugar to bees encourages them to collect pollen, rather than nectar, increasing the level of crop pollination vital for agricultural success.

Scientists at Plant & Food Research are working with commercial partners to develop methods that encourage pollination by bees, a process required to ensure the generation of fruit.

The research team have discovered that feeding bees a sugar solution every two days cause bees to shift their behaviour from collecting nectar to collecting pollen. During this collection process, more pollen is transferred between plants, creating a more efficient pollination process for growers.

“Bees will normally collect nectar to feed the hive,” says Dr Mark Goodwin. “Many growers have bee hives in their fields to assist in pollination, and ideally would like to encourage them to transfer pollen, rather than focusing on nectar collection. By feeding them sugar, the bees in the hive are too busy using the sugar to receive nectar from the workers. This gives the signal that nectar is not needed, so the workers switch to collecting pollen, increasing the amount transferred between plants.”

Many of New Zealand’s key crops are dependent on pollination by bees to generate fruit, including apple, kiwifruit, avocado, feijoa and berries. Bees are also widely used to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes.