Bees on the Farm May be More Valuable Than Pesticides, Study Shows

(Bloomberg) -- For European rapeseed farmers, honey bees buzzing around fields may outweigh the benefits of using pesticides to fight insect damage, French researchers said.

A four-year survey in France found higher yields and profits for rapeseed fields where there’s an abundance of pollinating insects, according to a study by agricultural researcher INRA and the country’s National Centre for Scientific Research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society.

That benefit is greatly reduced by using pesticides that don’t lift productivity enough to compensate for their cost, INRA said. So while more bees and spraying pesticides both boost yields, profits can be greater when only relying on pollination by bees, the researchers said. The findings come as French oilseed growers have bemoaned a European Union ban on neonicotinoids -- chemicals blamed for killing bees -- for causing crop losses.

“Greater yields may be achieved by either increasing agrochemicals or increasing bee abundance, but crop economic returns were only increased by the latter,” the researchers said.

For rapeseed fields with plenty of pollinators, gross margins on average were 15% higher than in plots bereft of them, the study found. Researchers analyzed almost 300 fields between 2013 and 2016, finding yields and gross margins as much as 40% higher where there’s an abundance of pollinators.

France’s is the EU’s top producer of rapeseed, which is crushed to produce oil used for cooking and as a feedstock for biodiesel. Rapeseed futures traded in Paris have climbed about 4% in the past 12 months.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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