Those busy little creatures are vital to sustaining human life on Earth. Without them the fruits and vegetables we take for granted would not grow and numerous plants would be missing from our food chain. We would face a very bleak future indeed

Without the incredible honeybee, two-thirds of the food we take for granted would almost vanish, making life as we know it impossible.

"The reality is that no bees mean no food and no people. That's no joke because bees make civilisation possible," says John Hartnell, Federated Farmers Bees chairman and a Christchurch-based exporter of bee products.

"If we don't look after all natural pollinators, and the honeybee especially, we could see economic and social collapse. We are truly tiptoeing around the edge of a global chasm.

"One-third of the food all humans eat is directly pollinated by honeybees. Nothing comes close to matching nature's super pollinator. It is why the honeybee is most indispensable animal to modern society.

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"When you eat your main meal tonight, just examine what's on your plate.

"Anything of colour, from broccoli to carrots, or avocados to beetroot, are only there because of honeybee pollination.

"What's more, another third of the food we eat from agriculture is indirectly supported by honeybees pollinating pasture and crops.

"While too much nitrogen can be a bad thing, too little, we forget, makes life impossible. Without bees no one would be rolling in clover. It is that simple and that stark.

"Then of course there is fruit; our sixth largest export worth over $1.7 billion each year. Whether it is kiwifruit, apple, blueberry, cherry or pear, all are directly pollinated by the honeybee.

"Without the honeybee, we'd be pretty much dependent on an austere diet of fish, starch, grains and seaweed.

"In China, much of its pear industry relies on pollination by human hand because the overuse of agricultural chemicals has made the land hostile to the honeybee.

"That is why bees are an industry group within Federated Farmers and share policy resources with our arable sector. This recognises just how vital bees are to farming, and farmers know that.

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"The three most important things to agriculture are 'the bees, the bees and the bees - you've got to look after the bees'. That says it all," Mr Hartnell concluded.

Bee aware

Sprays

There are some very simple rules when we look at agricultural sprays and irrigation and this is as applicable to lifestyle block farmers and councils as it is to working farms:

• If the crop is flowering and bees are flying and working the crop, leave spraying until dusk and before dawn. This is generally better than the day itself, with less wind and less spray drift.

• A chemical may be said to be "bee friendly", but do not take the risk. Often, the "sticking agent" mixed with the chemical can be more dangerous to bees than the active product.

• Ensure any spraying contractor is fully briefed on your requirements. Deliberately flaunting these guidelines is a prosecutable offence and the prospects of a beekeeper accepting a contract to pollinate your crops in the future will be greatly diminished.

Hive location
Placing hives for good pollination is like selling a house; it is location, location, location:

• Ensure hives are out of the travel path of any irrigator

•Different crops have different requirements. For crops the bees want to work, like white clover, they will fly some distance to seek pollen and nectar. Locating them over the fence in a sheltered warm north-facing site will do the job.

•Some crops are a little less palatable for the honeybee, like kiwifruit, carrots and onions. In this instance, placing the hives in the paddock or the orchard directly with the crop can enhance the pollination strike rate. Again, common sense will prevail: the honeybee is a master pollen and nectar gatherer; show them the opportunity and they will get on with the job, weather permitting.

Urban environment
Much of the advice above applies equally at home in the suburbs with gardeners. Make home gardens an inviting place for a bee to visit increases pollination success.

• Use a mixture of bee-friendly plants in your garden to encourage bees to fly in and do their job of pollination.

• Lavender in the vegetable plot or orchard is a great start and it will flower right through the pollination period.

• Bee-friendly gardening is just as important as bee-friendly farming. Keep it simple, keep it safe and bees will keep your garden pollinated.

Irrigation
Irrigation water is a major threat to bee life. Bees cannot live in a cold-wet environment and will rapidly chill and die before returning to the hive.

• Use common sense and irrigate in the evening and not during the day when bees are flying. This has the advantage of greater water retention for pasture and crops.

• If you want hives in a crop, ensure an irrigator can not drift across and take out the hives.

For further information contact:
John Hartnell, Federated Farmers Bees chairperson (03) 349 5590, 021 578 754