Research Update Pollinating with precision

WSU scientist found that mechanicalmethod results in a higher fruit set than occurred with natural pollination. By Susan McIver


recision pollination promises to eliminate bee colony collapse, reduce the impact of climate change and increase profits through consistent cropping, according to Matt Whiting.

A Washington State University cherry horticulturist, Whiting was a keynote speaker at the annual general meeting of the B.C. Cherry Association in February.

“Precision pollination is when growers take complete control of the process through mechanical means. It eliminates the need for pollinizers (trees) and pollinators (bees),” Whiting said.

He has found that mechanical pollination results in a higher fruit set in both cherry and apple orchards than occurred with natural pollination. Precision pollination does away with the inherent variation in the natural pollinizer-pollinator model which makes management difficult, reduces fruit set and ultimately means less money to the grower.

These variations include lack of overlapping bloom, insufficient density and suboptimum distribution of pollinizers.

No pollinizers mean no spread of pollen-borne viruses and no safe harbour for pests and disease. “And growers no longer have to spend money renting colonies,” Whiting said.

In the natural model, growers spend time and money determining optimum density and distribution pattern of colonies.

Inherent differences between colonies make doing this more difficult. “Also a colony may differ from year to year,” Whiting said.

If there are no bees, the problem of colony collapse disorder disappears.


“Climate change is resulting in more erratic spring weather which significantly impacts the natural model but has no or little effect on precision pollination,” he explained. From fruit set biological studies, Whiting reported that most pollination occurs in a short period of time because large populations of flowers bloom at


“But there is no relationship between the day of flowering and fruit quality,” he said.

Harvest maturity was found to align somewhat with floral bud initiation. “Fruit set is better in cool weather because there is more rapid senescence of the ovules when it is warmer,”

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2017 MATT WHITING PHOTOS

An electrostatic orchard sprayer such as this one can be used to spray pollen through netting to opening flowers inside. Below, blossoms are bagged to prevent pollination by bees.

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