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Start-up rents pollination bees to boost fruit farms

A Nouvelle-Aquitaine start-up is renting super-productive pollination bees to agricultural fruit farmers to boost their returns and help address the “disappearing bee” crisis.

Osmia, co-created by Franck Mariambourg near Agen (Lot-et-Garonne), delivers “mason bees” to orchard owners throughout the spring pollination season.

Mason bees do not make honey, but instead are super-productive pollinators and foragers.

Thanks to their special hairs, they transport pollen between flowers up to three times’ more efficiently than the more common “domestic” honey bee.

This means that the bees are better able to pollinate trees and plants, which in turn creates a better crop of fruits for farmers.

Mason bees are docile in temperament and can be handled fairly easily by Mr Mariambourg, who delivers his stocks of mason bee in simple cardboard boxes after growing and hatching them in a local laboratory.

They are then introduced to an artificial “hive”, which installs them on the farm and encourages them to begin their work.

The bees are also hardy workers, and continue to operate even when the weather is bad.

Emmanuel Chevalier, an orchard owner who has rented a hive of mason bees for the past two weeks, said: “Last week we had really horrible weather, with huge quantities of rainfall. But we realised that the rented bees were still there working, even in those terrible conditions.”

Bees have been in great decline in recent years, with some blaming pesticides for their disappearance, and predicting severe effects on crops and food.

This drop in pollinator bees have been estimated to cost up to €3 billion and up to 9% of the agriculture production every year in France. Mason bees could be the answer, Osmia says.

Mr Mariambourg said: “Better pollen makes rounder, juicier, more uniform-looking fruits, so they have a better weight, and there will be more fruit on the tree in total. That means that the farmers can expect a return increase of at least 10-15% [with these bees].”

The bees are currently estimated to be working on around 1,000 hectares of land in France, including in the south-west, the Rhône-Alpes, and, for the first time this year, in Normandy.

The company - whose name, Osmia, is the Latin genus name for mason bee - plans to spread the bees across the country, and also expects to export them to other countries in future seasons, should they continue to prove popular.

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