Of around 300 different types of commercial crops, 84 percent are pollinated by insects, including bees (Allsopp, de Lange, Veldtman) . Although most staple crops, such as grains and legumes, are not pollinated by insects, the fruits, vegetables, and nuts we consume everyday are pollinated by insects. With regard to the human population and development, it would be unrealistic and detrimental to humans' health to lose bee-pollinated foods. Humans must keep these natural pollinators alive and active in order to maintain our dietary needs.
There are two main alternatives to natural insect pollination, which are pollen dusting and hand pollination. For both solutions, pollen must first be processed and stored.
For pollen dusting, pollen is sprayed from aircraft onto fields. While pollen dusting may seem like a viable plan, fruit set must also be considered. Fruit set (the percentage of flowers that get pollinated and produce fruit) resulting from pollen dusting is estimated to be 73.5 percent less as compared to insect pollination, and fruit weight from pollen dusting is estimated to be 42 percent less when compared to insect pollination (Allsopp et al).
Hand pollination involves applying pollen to each bud using paintbrushes or other similar devices. Hand pollination of flowers is expected to deliver equal or more fruit set than insect pollination, and to deliver as big or bigger fruit (Allsopp et al.). However, there is a limit for the yield of fruit per tree, because it is biologically impossible to keep increasing the number of fruits per tree. Changing to hand-pollination when there are insects is not reasonable. The cost of these alternatives must be considered as well.
For the cost analysis, we will use apples in a case study. The federal minimum wage (7.25 USD/hour) (USDL) and average wage for illegal immigrants (5.45 USD/hour) (FAIR) was used to calculate the cost of labor. All costs in this section have been adapted from numbers in the report used (in ZAR)
The cost of pollen for dusting is 250 USD per hectare for dusting. It takes 0.78-1.06 USD per day/ha for someone to dust it, and there are additional maintenance fees for the aircraft used. This will add up to at least 250.78 USD per ha of land that is pollinated, which could be free if pollinated by natural insects. There is also the significant decrease of fruit set (73.5 percent decrease) and loss of fruit weight.
To hand pollinate apple trees, it takes 175 USD worth of pollen/ha, and the number of man days for hand pollination (at five seconds per flower) per hectare are about 120 days(Allsopp et al.). Accordingly, the total cost of pollen and labor in the U.S. would be 5715-7135 USD/ha. The fruit set will only change a negligible amount.
In the United States, there are about 379,000 acres, or 153,375 ha of apple orchards nation wide. From the costs above, we will lose more than 38,458,731 USD annually by pollen dusting, along with more than 70 percent of fruits. With hand dusting, the cost will be more than 876,538,125 USD annually, which could be free if bees are kept alive.
Through this analysis, we can tell that replacing natural services with artificial options is inefficient and expensive on the producer's part. This cost will be reflected in consumer prices later in the process. Produce prices affect people in all socioeconomic backgrounds, and will only aid in worsening the poor economy.