Harvesting watermelon in the Laguna region. Harvesting watermelon in the Laguna region.

Farmers worry about bee numbers decline

Watermelon yields could be down as much as 30%

A yet unquantified die-off of bees in the Comarca Lagunera region of the northern states of Coahuila and Durango has farmers worried about the impact it may have on the pollination of their crops.

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Many crops are greatly dependent on bee pollination, and the slightest drop in bee population can severely affect their production.

One of those crops is watermelon, whose producers are anticipating a 30% drop in yield during the current season.

The president of a Comarca Lagunera producers’ association explained that to pollinate one hectare of watermelon plants, two or three beehives are required. Jesús Alejandro Pereda Herrera said that although production also depends on other factors, a drop of 30% attributed to a single source “is no small issue.”

Researchers at the Agrarian Autonomous University Antonio Narro have undertaken to determine the reason for the massive bee die-off, calculated to have reduced the insects’ population in the region by 50%.

As an immediate emergency measure, the team led by José Luis Reyes Carrillo received 62 samples from beehives located throughout the La Laguna region. The first stage of testing ruled out the presence of tracheal parasites, Varroa mites and zombie flies as the cause of death.

Reyes’ team has shared the samples with the National Service for Agrofood Health, Safety and Quality (Senasica), which will determine if the die-off has been caused by the use of pesticides, particularly those used to combat the sugarcane aphid plague that recently affected the region’s sorghum plantations.

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“The European Union has determined that neonicotinoid pesticides negatively affect bee populations. We’ve asked Senasica to determine if those compounds are present in our honey, bee and beehive samples,” said Reyes.

Bee mortality, he continued, could affect not only watermelon crops but melon or squash as well.

Local specialists have determined that about 250 different plant species depend on bees to complete their pollination cycle.

The impact of the bee loss is just starting to be quantified, said Reyes. “According to a 2015 federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) census, there were 8,000 beehives in the region, but after polling producers we’ve found just over 6,000.”

“We estimate that we’ve already lost over 3,000 beehives because there are many small producers that don’t belong to any association, and therefore haven’t been thoroughly tallied.”

The results of the joint research will be presented in June during the International Beekeeping Congress to be held in Mérida, Yucatán, where experts will discuss the repercussions of the high numbers of bee mortality for other insect species, including the monarch butterfly.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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