Bees and other insects that pollinate plants in the United States have suffered in recent decades from mites, pesticides, pathogens, land development and habitat fragmentation. Nevertheless, production of insect-pollinated crops has mostly increased this century. Now, new research shows that insect pollinators’ value to farmers may be hard to replace.
According to a Cornell study published in the May 22 issue of the journal Public Library of Science ONE, crops pollinated by honeybees and other insects contributed $29 billion to farm income in 2010.
The study analyzed the economic value of honeybees and other insect pollinators for 58 crops, including species that are directly dependent on insects for pollination, such as apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, oranges and squash, and species that are indirectly dependent on insects, such as alfalfa, sugar beets, asparagus, broccoli, carrots and onions. Directly dependent crops require pollinators to produce a fruit, while indirectly dependent crops require pollinators to create seeds, but not the crop itself.
The findings show that in 2010, the value of directly pollinated crops was $16.35 billion, while the value of indirectly dependent crops was $12.65 billion.
More specifically, honeybees pollinated $12.4 billion worth of directly dependent crops and $6.8 billion worth of indirectly dependent crops in 2010.
Other insects, including alfalfa leaf cutter bees, bumblebees, horn-faced bees and orchard bees, added $4 billion and $5.9 billion in directly and indirectly dependent crops, respectively.
"This lets people for the first time look at a peer-reviewed paper that says here are the revenues derived from these crops, and if we want to keep producing [these crops], we have to recognize the importance of insect pollinators," said Nicholas Calderone, associate professor of entomology and the paper’s author.