The business of pollen collection in horticulture (PH19004)
What was it all about?
This short project, which ran from 2022 to 2023, found several artificial pollination systems globally that could suit Australian conditions.
The research team conducted a desktop review of artificial pollination technologies and collection methods and developed a business case for artificial pollination in Australia. Due to increasing difficulty in achieving successful pollination in several Australian crops, and the uncertainty in the future supply of honey bees for crop pollination, the horticulture sector requires an understanding of artificial pollination options.
Desktop analysis and grower interviews
To assess artificial pollination technologies that could be used in an Australian context, the research team conducted a series of literature reviews on different global strategies to collect pollen and pollinate crop plants.
Pollen collection is generally done by hand-harvesting whole flowers (or catkins or strobili) and milling them for pollen; mechanical harvest is currently only used for almonds and maize.
The research team grouped the dozens of commercial pollen application offerings (and many more patents and prototypes) into several general categories: handheld devices, backpack devices, tractor attachments, drones, and robotic platforms.
The researchers also interviewed growers across three cropping industries about their pollination challenges and perceptions of the practicalities of these artificial pollination technologies in an Australian context.
Using the information gathered in the literature review, the research team created a business case for artificial pollination in Australia using three case-study crops:
- Almond (insect-pollinated, self-incompatible)
- Olive (benefits from insect pollination, partially self-incompatible)
- Strawberry (insect-pollinated, self-compatible).
Technologies requiring labour-intensive applications had the highest barriers to use, while tractor-mounted applicators were the most favourable. Securing a pollen supply will be the primary challenge for adopting artificial pollination in Australia. For some crops, it will be possible to harvest pollen on-farm for application, and pollen donor farms may be profitable where mechanical flower harvest is an option (currently almond).
There is a diversity of artificial pollination systems globally, of which several would suit Australian conditions. If the barrier to importing pollen can be overcome, pollination of pip fruit, stone fruit, pistachio, kiwifruit and almond could be trialled in the short term. Additionally, collaborations between Australian industry and international pollen collection businesses or research institutes could adapt international practices to local conditions and allow the local collection of pollen for an artificial pollination market.