Bee research adds buzz to tomato industry

Photo by Katja Hogendoorn

Photo by Katja Hogendoorn
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Thursday, 25 September 2003

Researchers at the University of Adelaide hope to improve Australia's tomato production by mass-producing native bees - and they need help from the public to do it.

Australia's tomato industry is shifting towards more production in greenhouses (allowing climate control and improved pest management), but the main source of pollination - the manual vibration of flowers - costs the greenhouse tomato industry around $15,000 per hectare every year.

The University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture and Wine is embarking on a three-year project to develop a more natural and less costly solution for pollination in greenhouses, using native bees.

"Pollination by bees increases tomato yield by up to 15%, but the use of bees in Australian greenhouses is a new experience for industry," says Professor Margaret Sedgley, Professor of Horticultural Science at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus.

"Bumblebees are widely used in greenhouses overseas, but bumblebees do not occur in mainland Australia and the introduction of bumblebees to Australia is unlikely, because it may have severe negative environmental effects."

Professor Sedgley says the project at the University of Adelaide aims to supply a native alternative to exotic bumblebees, by breeding enough native blue-banded bees to be used as pollinators for the Australian industry.

"If successful, this will be the start of a novel Australian industry," she says.

"The outcome will satisfy an industry need and remove an environmental threat by finding indigenous substitutes for alien bumblebees. It also has the potential to create significant economic, environmental and health benefits for industry and consumers alike."

The three-year project has received $225,000 funding from the Australian Research Council and involves collaboration between three universities and four industry partners.

Public assistance is requested in locating nesting sites of blue- banded bees, so that researchers can use these bees for their breeding program.

Members of the public should contact Professor Margaret Sedgley: (08) 8303 7249.


Contact Details

Professor Margaret Sedgley
Professor of Horticultural Science
School of Agriculture and Wine
Adelaide University
Business: +61 8 8313 7249