Work by the Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation group at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in The Netherlands shows that improving pollination has a greater effect on final fruit yields than fertiliser application. According to the authors, this is the first study to measure the interactions between insects, soil quality and fertilizer in food production.
The researchers grew raspberries under a range of different conditions, with variations in pollination by insects, the organic matter of the soil and the application of artificial fertilizer. Insect pollination increased yields by 33 per cent and led to raspberries that were 11 per cent heavier. Higher organic matter content in the soil attracted more insects and resulted in berries that were 20 per cent heavier but did not increase overall yields. Adding fertilizer increased yields and the weight of the fruits but had no effect on insect pollination or the amount of organic matter in the soil.
The results, which have been published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, show that pollination, soil organic matter and fertilizer significantly and independently affected both quantity and quality of raspberry production, and that the contribution of soil organic matter to soluble solids content also interacted with pollination and fertilizer.
The researchers conclude that market gardeners can use pollination by insects and soil organic matter to raise production levels while reducing the use of artificial fertilizer. This will let the growers bolster nature values and produce food simultaneously.