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25 july 2019

Organic… bees!

In France, a team of researchers from the CNRS, Inra and La Rochelle* university has demonstrated for the first time that organic farming benefits honeybee colonies, especially during the food shortage period in late spring.

Bees are useful to humans not only as honey producers but also as pollinators of wild flowers and crops. However, as their sole source of food is nectar and pollen, in intensive farming areas they suffer from the poor availability of flowers in May and June, between the rapeseed and sunflower flowering periods. At this time of year, pollen collection,  honey production and colony growth decrease.
The study shows that organic farming can mitigate the negative effects of intensive farming and increase the survival of these essential pollinators. Organically farmed plots are said to offer honeybees more resources, particularly due to the presence of adventitious plants**.
Thanks to the Ecobee scheme for monitoring honeybee colonies (Inra/CNRS)***, which is one-of-a-kind in Europe, researchers found up to a 37% bigger brood****, 20% more adult bees, and 53% more honey in colonies surrounded by these plots compared to those in conventional farming landscapes.
Organically farmed plots therefore make a considerable impact: the increased brood production may be due to a greater diversity of pollen resources and a reduction in mortality attributable to local pesticides; the volume of honey reserves could be down to the increased availability of honey-producing flowers over a wider area, which corresponds to where bees look for resources (between 1 and 3 km in major farming areas).
*Effects of organic farming on seasonal dynamics of honeybee colony performance. Wintermantel Dimitry, Odoux Jean-François, Chadœuf Jöel, Bretagnolle Vincent in Journal of Applied Ecology, June 26, 2019
**In agronomy, this word denotes a herbaceous or woody plant found in an agroecosystem without having been intentionally planted there. It roughly corresponds to the common expressions “weeds” or “wild grass”
***Each year, it makes it possible to measure the effect of farming practices under real conditions in 50 experimental hives in South-West France
**** The brood is all the eggs, larvae and pupae, protected by nurse bees (worker bees)


© Christophe Majani D'Inguimbert /  Veolia Photo Library