The world of agriculture is abuzz with interest in honey bees these days. While the primary concern for most involved is the health and vitality of honey bee populations, many are also interested in the impact honey bees have on crops they have not traditionally been used to pollinate, such as soybeans.
Iowa State University entomologist Matt O’Neal, Ph.D., is directing checkoff-supported research in hopes of providing more detail about potential links between honey bees and soybeans.
O’Neal and his team are investigating the impact that the placement of honey bee hives near soybean fields has on soybean yield, as well as the impact that different types of landscapes around those fields has on honey bee health.
Last summer, limited trials in Ashton, Illinois and Clarion, Iowa revealed yield gains of 8 percent in soybean fields with hives placed in close proximity. Those trials followed a Brazilian study from 2005 that reported an 18 percent yield bump.
Soy checkoff farmer-leader Annie Dee, from Alabama, has a keen interest in honey bees and honey bee research. She’s seen such a benefit from having bees near her field that she partners with local beekeepers to maintain hives on her farm.
“We have five groups of honey bee hives located around our soybean fields,” she says. “The bees help pollinate our soybeans and help maximize our soybean yield potential.”
To measure the precise soybean yield gains offered by bees, O’Neal and his team placed an apiary of four hives in the proximity soybean fields.
They’ll also place hives in two different categories of landscape around the soybean fields:
Simple: a landscape in which 80 percent or more of the plant life is corn or soybeans.
Complex: at least 50 percent of the plant life is non-soy or non-corn.
“We suspect that the impact on the bees is a function of the surrounding landscape,” he says.
If additional data confirms what earlier research has shown, soybeans and honey bees can very likely look forward to a long and prosperous relationship in the future.