Feeding the World by Saving the Bees and Microbes

Written by: Susanna Elliott

Categories: Alltech Symposium
May 21
Feeding the World by Saving the Bees and Microbes

In order to feed the predicted population apex of 9 billion people by 2050, we must increase our ag yield by 20 to 30 percent, said Becky Timmons, Alltech’s global director of applications research and quality assurance, at the closing session of the 30th Alltech Symposium. We have two options: We can spread out on more land, which is not possible, or get better yield off the land we have.

How can bees and microbes help?

Without microbes, there would be no plants or animals. Their biodiversity is significant, and their roles are crucial. Microbes are necessary for acquiring nutrients by creating enzymes that can break materials down in the soil. They can produce antibiotics that eliminate pathogens in the soil, toxins that deter pests, and hormones that help plants grow.

Meanwhile, one out of every three bites taken by Americans is affected by bees. Ninety percent of the crops we eat are made up of about 12 different crops, and most are self-pollinating, but 15 percent of what we eat comes from direct-pollinated crops. Even the meat we eat is indirectly affected by bees. Bees create $15 billion in crop value each year in the U.S. alone.

Bees travel an average of 55,000 miles to create one pound of honey, and one hive visits 225,000 flowers per day. The flowers’ pollen provides protein for the bee, and the bee also gets energy from its nectar.

The problem is that we’ve gotten rid of many things that bees would naturally go to through the treatments of our yards. We’ve changed their environment and limited their food source.

Since 2006, beekeepers have been losing one-third of their colonies per year in what has been termed “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

Why? There is not a clear answer but there are several suspected causes:

  1. Pesticides: They are absorbed by plants into their vascular system and get into the soil. Bees ingest them at a sub-lethal level, and the pesticide acts as a nerve agent.
  2. Parasites: Varroa mite, an external parasite, as well as Nosema, a unicellular parasite; fungus
  3. Urbanization: As we take away bees’ food sources, it becomes more difficult for them to reproduce and stay healthy.
  4. Monocrops: Monocropping creates a challenging environment for bees because it provides only a seasonal food source and no diversity.

What if you look at all the hurdles bees face daily? If a bee has a parasite and is not well, he will go out in search of nutrition sources. Unfortunately, he often can’t find these sources because the flowers are not there any longer because you have used herbicides on your lawn or you are in an urban area, explained Timmons. So the bee now has to travel farther to get food. Once it gets there, it feels dizzy because it has ingested the pesticide, and it’s so disoriented it can’t get back to the hive.

What can we do to help bees?

  1. Join the public outcry.
  2. Limit the use of pesticides.
  3. Plant more wildflowers, hedges, trees, etc.

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