More trees but less bees

Over the last decade we have witnessed an increase in almond producer numbers in our KG2 farmer database due to increasing demand worldwide for the protein rich product, which yields enormous profit margins if farmed efficiently. However, despite Australia’s booming almond industry, these trees currently rely on billions of bees each year to set fruit, with fears arising of a global decline in bee colonies continuing to gain momentum. Thus, scientists and researchers are finding solutions to make almond trees more sustainable by breeding self-fertile and more water-efficient trees which will in turn improve the industries environmental footprint.

The development of self-fertile almond trees

We know that almond trees are not wind-pollinated easily, so historically bees have been an essential part of the process. However new data from tertiary trials collected at three sites along the River Murray in South Australia and Victoria look promising towards overturning this longstanding process. Trials with almost 4,500 new trees have shown that not only can the new self-fertile trees go without bees, but they can also produce up to 60 percent more almonds than nonpareil varieties using the exact same amount of water.

Pollination demand straining Australian apiaries  

KG2 has also done extensive agricultural market research with beekeepers over the last few years, most of whom have been struggling to meet demand for pollination services. Varroa mite is the number one concern on beekeepers’ minds which would likely decimate the industry –another reason why we cannot have other industries such as almonds so reliant on bees at present. The Almond Board of Australia’s data shows the industry currently uses about 230,000 hives for pollination due to a 15-fold increase in hectares planted over the past two decades.

Future research and development

Since the commercial release of four self-fertile Almond tree varieties bred by the University of Adelaide’s team in 2016, growers have started cultivating them. The belief is that lower bee density will be advantageous and save growers money on pollination services, which of course makes the industry much more sustainable long-term due to lower inputs and higher yields. Furthermore, the new varieties seem to have a much better seal that previous trees, meaning insects cannot get into them. In a new trial commencing this month, researchers are aiming to combat some of the biggest diseases: hull rot and bacterial spot disease – which currently cost the almond industry millions of dollars in production losses each year alone.