New research shows the role that bees and other pollinators play in stabilising the production of crops including fruits, reducing the uncertainty that causes price spikes

A study from scientists at the University of Reading, published in the journal Ecology Letters, has uncovered the stabilising effect of pollinators on crop yields, highlighting the added importance of protecting and enhancing such insects.

The benefits of pollinators to crop yields are already known, but their role in crop stability has reportedly been poorly understood. The study found 32 per cent less variation in yields of plants visited by pollinators than those grown in their absence.

It is hoped that such pollinators can help mitigate supply issues and global price spikes by keeping food supplies steady, according to Dr Jake Bishop, a crop science researcher at the university and leader of the study.

“Our findings suggest that preserving pollinators provides a double benefit, reducing fluctuations in food supplies as well as boosting supplies in the first place,” he said. “Stable and predictable production of nutritious food is a necessity for farmers and for global food security. We are seeing right now that instability or shocks across the food system can lead to dramatic increases in food price.”

Pollinators, he said, were particularly important in the production of fruit and vegetable crops.

“Around half of the experiments we analysed were testing the effect of real pollinator populations in real crop fields so our results illustrate the benefits that pollinators are currently providing,” he explained.

The study’s publication coincides with the start of Bees’ Needs Week (18-24 July), a UK government-led initiative that champions the benefits of pollinators.

The initiative lists ways ordinary people can help bees, including letting gardens grow wild and “thinking carefully about whether to use pesticides”.

Many environmentalists have questioned the focus on individual actions and urged the government to instead change its own policies, including its decision to allow sugar beet farmers emergency use of the insecticide thiamethoxam, banned across Europe in 2018.