192 - Lisa DeVetter - Blueberry Pollination Planner


[00:00:00] Andony Melathopoulos: Frequent listeners of pollination know that one of the biggest pollinator dependent crops here in the Pacific Northwest from the lower mainland of British Columbia, right throughout Washington and here into Oregon are high Bush. Blueberry highbush blueberries are delicious fruit that are grown here, and it requires a lot of honeybee callings to pollinate.

[00:00:20] And in addition, there are. Native bees that will visit a blueberry flowers, notably bumblebees. Now, one thing that's been happening in the blueberry industry over the last few years is a lot of development. There's new practices that are being employed. There's new cultivars that are being used, and it's unclear how best to optimize pollination.

[00:00:40] And to this end, there's a new, a USDA funded project that. Participant in led by Dr. Rufus Isaac at Michigan state university that is coming up with a pollination planner, a little tool, so that blueberry grower knows how to make all these different trade-offs in terms of how many colonies they need when the colonies need to be delivered.

[00:01:01] Maybe how the. Orchard is planted. They need different cultivars. All that is the focus of this project. And to talk about that project this week, at least the starting point I have Dr. Lisa, the Vetter now, Dr. is a long time collaborator of mine. So I've been here at OSU she's an, a associate professor of small fruits at the Mount Vernon research center for w Washington state university.

[00:01:26] She's worked a lot on pollination. You may remember a past episode we had with Matt Arrington where research that she'd done with Dr. Arrington revealed that stocking rate. You can actually put more bees per acre in some blueberry fields and actually get a benefit. So in this week, we're going to hear about the first glimpse of this pollination planner and we're not certain we're going to have a number of other episodes highlighting this planner and also at the very end of the episode.

[00:01:52] Are you, if you're a beekeeper in the area of your blueberry grower, there is a survey and you can win some prizes. And this survey is really key to making this planner really usable for the industry. So please follow the show notes and you will be able to plug into this planner. Okay. Without further ado.

[00:02:08] Here's Dr. Lisa D Vetter on blueberry pollination this week on pollinate.

[00:02:42] Okay. I am so excited to finally have Dr. Lisa Vetter on the pollination podcast.

[00:02:50] Lisa DeVetter: Great. Thank you so much. Andoni I'm very excited to be here. Yeah.

[00:02:53] Andony Melathopoulos: We've had a lot of conversations over the years and I, I started the podcast in some ways to capture those conversations. Various people. So I'm so delighted to have you, and you, and I've had extended conversations on a pollination of high Bush blueberries, and I want to start by just laying out some ground work.

[00:03:09] What is the pollination book? Biology of high Bush? Blueberry are insect, pollinators, absolutely necessary, and is out crossing to plants, have a different cultivar. As we've heard in a previous episode with cherry, is that necessary for blue?

[00:03:23] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah. Great. I'm happy to talk about it. Blueberry is one of my favorite crops that I get to work with as a horticulturalist.

[00:03:28] So highbush blueberry is the one that we're focusing on. It's the Northern highbush blueberry one. That's what we grow here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. It is grown primarily in these large. With copious amounts of flowers and they are in need of insect, mediated, pollination. So our current curriculum of cultivars, excuse me, or current cultivars don't need a cross pollination to the best of our knowledge.

[00:03:52] That's something that several other collaborators are exploring, but. For the most part, it's not a huge priority. And part of that, we can see it based on these really large blocks of same cultivar duke or cultivar Draper. They're still able to set fruit and size them up really appropriately without

[00:04:10] Andony Melathopoulos: cross-pollination.

[00:04:12] So that is, so let me get this straight so that it may be, we say there's ongoing research into this, but right now the current practice is growers will have a solid block of something into it. And they're setting fruit, even though the bees may be. Visiting in that.

[00:04:26] Lisa DeVetter: Exactly. But that doesn't mean though that we can get larger berries or from cross-pollination from our current cultivars, I think as we start with newer cultivars that are coming onto the market and are becoming increasingly utilized by growers, those might need more cross-pollination particularly for some of the brightens or cultivars that have Southern highbush blueberry in the germplasm, because they do have a greater.

[00:04:53] Andony Melathopoulos: Oh, that's interesting. I did not know that. So there's some high Bush blueberries that we have here that have Southern population genetics.

[00:05:02] Lisa DeVetter: Correct. Yeah. And that's really where some of the interesting questions are, as we start looking at these new and improved cultivars we have to figure out what are their pollination needs?

[00:05:10] Are they going to be better? If we have a Pollenizer in these production systems so those are still some remaining questions

[00:05:16] Andony Melathopoulos: that. Can I, and just before we move off on that, I find this fascinating. So there is this turnover of cultivars. Is this happening very quickly and what's prompting this shift to new culture.

[00:05:30] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah. If it's something that, a lot of growers understand that the cornerstone to disease tolerance and improve production is through utilization of germ plasmin. We haven't had a lot of new cultivars out there. Meanwhile, we have companies like fall Creek. Sir, they're really great companies and they're doing a lot when it comes to developing new germ files.

[00:05:49] And they're coming out and they're releasing them and we're trying to assess them. And growers are trying to adopt them as they start to modernize their production systems.

[00:05:59] Andony Melathopoulos: Fantastic. I know the scope of your job is very broad and I'm always impressed. Whenever I talk to your have another collaboration and another, you've got to do everything.

[00:06:08] Mulches and things like that, but you have turned your attention to blueberry pollination over the last few years, you've done some really great research in it. And I guess the first question I have associated with them is their problems associated with blueberry pollination. And if there is, when did you start to notice that, blueberry pollination in Washington might not be completely understood that there were some open questions worth devoting research?

[00:06:33] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah, I'd be happy to elaborate. Cause it's such a game. I do a lot of projects that pollination is my favorite area. If I can say that, hopefully my mulching colleagues aren't listening in. It's really interesting because it's such a complex system and I'm always learning and humbled by it.

[00:06:47] So I came to Washington state university and I really tried to do grower driven research and address knowledge gaps to help with their production. And when I came right away, one of the concerns was fruit set and pollination. And the first project that I did was just to try to. Stan what's pollination levels where and starting to build my knowledge.

[00:07:07] And it became pretty clear after the first few years of research that we were achieving a pollination deficit in our blueberry fields. And so that kind of led to this cascade of new collaborations and new research projects to try to figure out how can we improve pollination for the growers that were working.

[00:07:26] And also off the beekeepers too. That's also been fun to develop these relationships with beekeepers and try to help them provide a better service.

[00:07:34] Andony Melathopoulos: And I remember, you know what, we had a previous episode, oh, quite a few years ago with one of your students at the time, Matt Arrington, and that, you started to notice with things like stocking density at previously conceived, limits were actually maybe not applicable.

[00:07:50] Yeah.

[00:07:51] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah, and I think there's a lot more work that can be done there. But what we found out through Matt Arrington's research, I should say Dr. Arrington downs degree program, which makes us so proud as academic parents. But what he found was that increasing Heim density from the standard, which was four eyes to the acre will lead to increase bee visitation and fruit set and various size for duke for our environmental condition.

[00:08:17] Specify that because it's unknown how that might affect other cultivars. And I think there's a lot more out there and you've done some great work on this topic. Looking more at the importance also of colony strengths,

[00:08:28] Andony Melathopoulos: I sometimes think, oh, Washington and Oregon and. Also our listeners in British Columbia.

[00:08:33] This is all one region, working with you, I've come to realize that Washington, especially east Eastern Washington, where a lot of blueberries are grown is a different pollination condition than the Willamette valley. Can you talk a little bit about kind of the, the kind of problems associated with pollination in Washington specific?

[00:08:51] Yeah

[00:08:52] Lisa DeVetter: here in Northwestern, Washington are one of our main limitations is our environmental conditions. So when the blueberries are blooming our typical conditions are cool and wet, not very conducive for honeybee foraging. So that's one bottleneck that we can experience in the Northwestern part of the state.

[00:09:10] Also, and you had the opportunity to speak with Maxine who is a postdoc that is working in the program. He also had. It's been teaching me a lot about native pollinators, which are fascinating, and our landscape and new production system, blueberry is from out in the Northeast and we're growing them here in the Pacific Northwest and these large blocks.

[00:09:29] We're also probably not having a lot of. Contribution from native pollinators or at least that's one of the hypotheses out there that can be tested

[00:09:40] Andony Melathopoulos: well, fantastic. I think this opens up a can of worms that I want to pick up after the break we have you are part of a new project.

[00:09:47] Large project and national projects develop a pollination planner. So let's take a quick break and I want you to just give me the broad strokes of this project. We're going to be hearing in this podcast a lot from this research over time, but let's take a quick break. We'll come right back and we'll learn about the pollination planner.

[00:10:06] Okay, fantastic. We're back now. You're part of this team. You're the anchor here in the Pacific Northwest of a project that's led by Dr. Rufus Isaacs at Michigan state university. And it's developed a pollination planner for blueberry growers in broad strokes. What would such a planner do and how might a grower in the Pacific Northwest use such a.

[00:10:28] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah. So broad strokes. What we're trying to create is a decision aid tool. So something that is data-driven that we can make accessible to growers, possibly even beekeepers and consultants, where they can access it and understand how modifying practices on their farms. Stocking density for a particular cultivar in a particular region will affect the success when it comes to fruit set, yield and return on that pollination investment.

[00:10:57] So that's the broad strokes. Any questions do we need to

[00:10:59] Andony Melathopoulos: narrow down on? Yeah. I was thinking about it and it seems like a kind of a a comp. Problem, because as you mentioned at the beginning, the industry is changing and there's all sorts of like data gaps.

[00:11:10] I imagine to be able to get a planner like this off the ground, there has to be a lot of data generated to be able to populate it.

[00:11:19] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah, absolutely. So this. For years long and the planner we're working on trying to create it as quickly as possible, but a lot of the project is actually developing the data that's currently lacking for our modern production systems, including our modern cultivars.

[00:11:35] Andony Melathopoulos: So I know there's multiple objectives and I know one in, in one of the objectives is stocking rate and colony placement. Can you tell us a little bit about that part of the.

[00:11:45] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah. So that's the part that we've been working on as well as with your program. Andoni so we've been looking at a cost benefit analysis of different honeybee, stocking densities, as well as placement strategies.

[00:11:56] So more work on stocking density, which we had done initially, which is great. There's still a lot, I think that can be developed there. And then the placement strategies, which is looking at, does it make a difference if you disperse your hives? Field or do you cluster them away? We see different practices for different reasons, and we're hopefully going to be able to answer that question and understand to if there is an increased risk of pesticide exposure based on placement straps.

[00:12:23] Andony Melathopoulos: Oh, yeah, I remember this. in a, I've seen this myself driving around blueberry fields and I've heard beekeepers talk about this. Sometimes growers will put a palliative bees right up against the crop and they'll just spread them all out. The idea being that if they're spread out and close to the crop, they'll get better pollination.

[00:12:40] Although some people will do the opposite and put the bees far back from the crop and maybe out of the spray zone area. And I guess it's an open question, whether. Influences pollination or whether the bees get less exposure.

[00:12:55] Lisa DeVetter: And we're hoping that question will no longer be open by the end of this year with another round of data collection next year.

[00:13:02] Andony Melathopoulos: And so some other aspects, I know there's a climate to logical part, but, especially I imagine with this past year in mind with strange weather temperatures growers being able to understand how. Temperature during pollination might affect the bloom and all that. Also the performance of the bees I imagined that's part of this project as well.

[00:13:23] Lisa DeVetter: Yeah, we're definitely encompassing weather cause it's affecting both the blueberry plant in terms of pollination and development of those berries. And then it's also affecting our honeybee foragers. The environmental aspects include looking at bloom phonology based on variable weather conditions.

[00:13:38] I'm also looking at honeybee forging activity based on environmental. And then just understanding how temperature and humidity affect pollination itself. This was something was brought up by Dr. Rachel malinger at the university of Florida where they're dealing with really humid conditions and she was mentioning how, for them.

[00:13:57] Concern that if it's really humid, then the pollen won't release effectively and that could diminish pollination.

[00:14:02] Andony Melathopoulos: Oh, that's right. I remember with and you've done a bunch of this work where you've been extracting pollen for some of this research. You've have a control where you get the pollen off the plants and you actually artificially load the pollen onto the plant.

[00:14:14] I imagine when it's wet, that doesn't happen very well. No, we

[00:14:18] Lisa DeVetter: learned pretty quickly this year. Don't try when it's wet or if there's any moisture on the plants, because it does not release.

[00:14:25] Andony Melathopoulos: Okay. That's have I covered most of the experiments that are happening here in Washington and Oregon to generate the data for the planners there.

[00:14:33] If I missed anything, there's another aspect with compatibility. Is that. Yeah,

[00:14:38] Lisa DeVetter: absolutely. We're looking at pollination requirements and attraction of new and existing cultivars. That we're still refining that as a project team, initially, there was going to be work here in the Northwest.

[00:14:48] We might just more, collaborate with. In Michigan and Florida on looking at those pollination requirements for cultivars that are important for our growing region here in the Pacific Northwest.

[00:15:00] Andony Melathopoulos: Now the final thing I wanted to talk to you about, and maybe this should have been, the first thing is there's this exciting new production survey and the wash, the work is happening with.

[00:15:08] At WSU to figure out the, in the economics for the decision-making tool and there's a production survey. Can you tell us a little bit about this production survey and how growers can re get involved in. Just tell us a little bit, pitch it to the growers out in the audience right now.

[00:15:25] Yeah.

[00:15:26] Lisa DeVetter: Maybe I'll start by saying, each state, when you do the survey, you get into a raffle to win a prize. Hopefully that'll increase participation. I want to underscore, we really. Have a hard time moving forward and coming up with practical, realistic recommendations without input from the growers.

[00:15:40] So these surveys are really important with this survey is trying to do is get a baseline on your pollination practices on your farm. And then, some information to that, Suzanne Galinato, who is our economists working on the project team is also interested in, and that will allow us to do an effective cost benefit analysis for the different stocking densities in placement strategies and inform our pollination prediction model, where we want to include understanding what the return on investment is on these different pollination practices that are under investigation.

[00:16:11] So where you can access it, we've been promoting it. So the Washington blueberry commission has promoted it, the Oregon blueberry commission as well. And then our friends with pure bull crop consulting have also been advertising for it. And then it can be found in the small fruit update as well.

[00:16:26] So we'll get it there. It might take you 10 minutes. But the feedback is really valuable.

[00:16:32] Andony Melathopoulos: Oh. And we'll link it in the show notes. Excellent. The other thing I'd say is if you get into the survey right now, you're at the front of front, you're on the, you in the driver's seat and you'll be available to get updates on all this information on the planner.

[00:16:47] You may be like one of the first kind of people with the planner in your hands. If you take the survey, we'll know who you are. And we'll make sure you're like at the front of the row.

[00:16:59] Lisa DeVetter: I want to sign up for

[00:17:00] Andony Melathopoulos: it. I, yeah, absolutely. Take 10 minutes. It's really great. And this is a, you're going to it'll you can get a prize and you can also just as the planner's being developed, you'll really help shape how it looks as. Excellent. Okay. Let's take a quick one more quick break.

[00:17:14] We have a set, a segment that we ask all our guests on the show. I'm really curious what your answer is going to be. So here we go. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back. All right. We're back. I have these three questions for you. First, a book recommendation on pollinators or. Maybe even blueberries for in your case, what's a book that we need to have.

[00:17:36] Lisa DeVetter: This one was pretty easy for me and it's going to sound a little boring because Maxine recommended the same one. So Dave Golson books are fabulous. My favorite is a sting in the tail and it's about his adventures with bumblebee, such a fabulous book. I'm rereading it right now because they have so dense, but also so fun and approachable.

[00:17:55] Andony Melathopoulos: I know, I wish I was in his household.

[00:17:57] Lisa DeVetter: I know, and every time I read that book, I reconsider my career choice. I'm like

[00:18:04] a good book.

[00:18:05] Andony Melathopoulos: It's great. I really, in a, there's a a number of you in the U S who are do both. You're actually quite good at doing pollination biology, the crop, I think that's a rare breed and it's such an effective and powerful tool for growers because those two things can really be brought together.

[00:18:21] Yeah

[00:18:22] Lisa DeVetter: good to have good entymology collaborators with expertise in pollination as well. So it goes both.

[00:18:27] Andony Melathopoulos: It brings me to the next question is somebody who has that I met as an extension person, as somebody who works in multiple crops and has multiple interests. Is there a tool in all of this work that you do that you find in despair?

[00:18:40] Sure.

[00:18:41] Lisa DeVetter: It's going to be a very millennial answer and it's my cell phone. I don't know if anyone's ever told you that, but my cell phone is it's a map it's GPS thing. It's the only thing it doesn't have is like a bottle opener and a pocket knife. But other than that, it's pretty much perfect. It's really useful.

[00:18:57] And you can collect data from it. You can take pictures. I would be lost without

[00:19:03] Andony Melathopoulos: my phone. And, it's amazing what you can now. Do. I remember my first, I worked in low Bush, blueberries years ago and I took plot photos with my, that was the first time used and it was still glitchy, but now it's like everything syncs up to the cloud.

[00:19:16] You don't lose anything and he can really use it as a data inputting tool. Highly effectively. It's very

[00:19:23] Lisa DeVetter: efficient. So that's my millennial answer.

[00:19:27] Andony Melathopoulos: That's a great answer. And you're not the first one to, I have to say it's a, it is a popular answer or a good reason. Yeah, absolutely. And I guess the last question is, do you have a pollinator species that you, when it comes by?

[00:19:43] You're actually, it's I love that pollinators.

[00:19:45] Lisa DeVetter: It's not a particular species and it reflects my book choice. So I just love bumblebees. They're fascinating just when you think about their biology and also their pollinator contributions. So they're just amazing pollinators and they always catch my eye whenever I see them,

[00:20:01] Andony Melathopoulos: and I, the thing I guess, with blueberries is this as a bee that, is a.

[00:20:06] Really well-suited for vaccinium plants that has the ability to get that pollen of the poorest Seidel answers there. It's like a nice match. I could see why it's high on your list. There.

[00:20:18] Lisa DeVetter: That's a very good point. So that sonification and how they're able to pollinate blueberries is a good match.

[00:20:24] Andony Melathopoulos: Good luck with your research.

[00:20:26] We're really looking forward to it'd be great to have you back on the show later. I know you're doing work. You've done work with attractants. You've done works with stocking density. There's so many questions about blueberry pollination. It's such an important crop for the region. So we will be catching up with you later.

[00:20:41] Good luck with your research.

[00:20:42] Lisa DeVetter: Great. Thank you, Anthony. And it's nice to have you on the project team as well.

The blueberry industry is one of the most dynamic fruit sectors in the US. As a consequence, what was recommended for pollination a few decades ago may no longer apply. This week we hear about a new initiative to develop a modern pollination planner for US blueberry growers.

Lisa DeVetter is an Associate Professor of Small Fruit Horticulture at Washington State University.

Links Mentioned:

Pollination Planner website

Blueberry pollination survey

Book Recommendation:

A Sting in the Tale (Dave Goulson, 2013)

Go To Tool:

Smart phone for data capture

Favorite Pollinator:

Bumble bees

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