Major new pollination research investment fund a win for fruit, veg and nuts

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European honey bee on fruit blossom: bees are key pollinators for many food crops.
European honey bee on fruit blossom: bees are key pollinators for many food crops.
Westpark, Flickr CC

In a bid to ensure the viability of Australia’s fruit, vegetable and nut industries into the future, Horticulture Innovation Australia has launched a major pollination research investment fund.

The likely multi-million-dollar fund will invest in “vital research” into more effective means of pollination for these key crops, including the use of alternate pollinators, to improve crop quality and boost yields.

Other priorities will be to promote understanding among growers of the roles various pollinators play, and to find new and better ways to safeguard bee health.

Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd said that now, more than ever, Australia’s horticultural future depends on having funding and research support.

Hort Innovation will oversee several pollination-related projects, to be funded jointly by the Australian Government and co-investors that will likely include research institutions, government agencies, and international and commercial enterprises. (See footnote)

Honey bee collecting nectar from sunflower: Safeguarding the health of our honey bees is a vital part of ensuring that our fruit, vegetable and nut sectors will be productive into the future.
Safeguarding the health of our honey bees is a vital part of ensuring that our fruit, vegetable and nut sectors will be productive into the future.
Björn Hermans, Flickr CC

"Pollination – particularly declining numbers of European honey bees – is fast becoming a global challenge,” he said. “Bees pollinate a large percentage of Australian crops so it is vital we dedicate more resources into their health,” Lloyd said.

He said many factors are likely contributors to this situation, and that it is important that these be understood in the Australian context, noting that the Varroa Destructor mite is one of our most damaging biosecurity threats.

“The investment in research on pollination will in turn support activities by lead biosecurity agencies in protecting industries that depend on pollination,” said Lloyd, “but bees are only part of the picture.

“For that reason, it is crucial that we explore and strengthen alternative pollinators through this new research fund – such as self-pollinating varieties of plants, alternative insects, or automatic or robotic aids.

“The aim is to safeguard the future of the nation’s horticulture products for years to come.”

Almond orchard: self-pollinating varieties are an alternative to relying on traditional pollinators such as bees.
Almond orchard: self-pollinating varieties are an alternative to relying on traditional pollinators such as bees.
BBC World Service, Flickr CC

Over coming months, Hort Innovation will be establishing an Expert Advisory Panel of pollination and industry experts. It will also be seeking co-investors as partners in multiple pollination-related research projects.

For more information on the Pollination fund, visit the Hort Innovation website 

Footnote:  Aside from its levy-based investments (Pool 1), Hort Innovation is charged with managing the investment of about $20 million annually in Australian Government seed funds across various research priorities (Pool 2). These funds are matched with funding from co-investors. All Pool 2 funds are used to address cross-industry challenges and opportunities of strategic, long-term importance to Australia’s horticulture industries.

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