Top-fruit growers should encourage a range of insects to visit their trees during the season to maximise pollination, Herefordshire Beekeepers Association chairman Colin Pavey told Agrovista's fruit technical seminar.
"No one bee ticks all the boxes," he said. "Honeybees are excellent pollinators but they don't like the cold and are slow to get going, which is why it's good to have bumblebees and solitary bees too."
But fruit trees only blossom in spring and all bees need to be able to forage through to autumn, he explained. "Otherwise you won't have a good mix of pollinators for next season."
As well as continuity of supply, bees need a range of flowers to forage on because not all species can feed from all flower types, he said.
"Honeybees with their short tongues can't feed on clover, while longer-tongued bumblebees can. Ivy and rosebay willowherb are also important, but a lot of orchards are a bit of a green desert - growers like nice neat green strips between trees. In that case, they could create wild flower patches elsewhere." Pavey added that while last year's late spring saw colonies lose 30-50 per cent of their bees to starvation, the current season is "looking much better".
Meanwhile, Agrovista representatives Alex Radu and Alex Cooke explained on the day that the firm is trialling two new products to boost fruit tree pollination.
Pollinus is a blend of aromatic compounds that imitate bee pheromones and is designed to increase bees' foraging activity during the pollination period, said Radu. "In a test market in last year's late season we had sufficient good results to try it again in this season's very different circumstances."
In a published result on pears, two applications of Pollinus gave a statistically significant increase in fruit set, the total yield and the number of pips per fruit, he pointed out.
Pollibuild takes the very different approach of stimulating plants' own pollen hydration and germination, pollen tube growth and fruit set. Agrovista is trialling the product for the first time this year to help in top-fruit varieties that are difficult to set, Cooke explained.
The product has already been shown to give a boost in yield and average fruit weight in trials in North America, he added.
Buglife Pollinator manifesto published
Buglife has published a "pollinator manifesto" to coincide with the launch of Defra's consultation on its proposed National Pollinator Strategy earlier this month.
Among the conservation charity's 27 recommendations are a UK-wide pollinator monitoring programme, banning commission-based selling of pesticides, outlawing unlicensed poisoning of wild bees or their nests, and repealing the Weeds Act 1959 and the Ragwort Control Act 2003.