Flying doctor bees to prevent cherry disease
By Marg Land
University of Adelaide researchers are introducing a method to use bees to deliver disease control to cherry blossoms, preventing brown rot in cherries.
This is a new technique for Australia and a world first for cherry orchards with potential application in many horticultural industries. It was demonstrated publicly for the first time during a field day in September hosted by the Cherry Growers of South Australia and researchers at Lennane Orchards,
“Brown rot is caused by a fungus which significantly impacts Australia’s cherry industry through costs of applying fungicide, yield loss and fruit spoilage,” says project leader Dr. Katja Hogendoorn, a postdoctoral research associate with the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food
“All commercial cherry growers spray during flowering to control the later development of cherry brown rot. Instead of spraying fungicide, we’re using bees to deliver a biological control agent right to the flowers where it is needed. This uses an innovative delivery method called entomovectoring.”
The biological control agent contains spores of a parasitic fungus that prevents the fungus causing brown rot from colonizing the flower. Every morning, the cherry grower sprinkles the spores into a specially designed dispenser fitted in front of the hive. The bees pick up the spores between their body hairs and bring them to the flowers.
“The flying doctors technology is used successfully in Europe to control strawberry grey mould, but it’s the first time for Australia and the first time in cherry orchards anywhere,” Dr. Hogendoorn says, adding the use of bees has many environmental and economic benefits compared to spraying fungicide.
“The bees deliver control on target, every day,” she says. “There is no spray drift or run-off into the environment.”
Dr. Hogendoorn says adoption of the technique will have the additional benefit of building up the number of managed honeybee hives.
With increasing availability of biological control agents, future application of the technology is expected to become available for disease control in almonds, grapes, strawberry, raspberry, apple, pear and stone fruit.