This summer's apple harvest set record highs and there were large expansions of organically-produced apples. New research studying apple orchards in Sweden, Germany and Spain, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, found that wild pollinators and pollination were higher in orchards with more flowering plants.

– However, many orchards do not contain high numbers of flowering plants. This should be changed, according to Peter Hambäck, a professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences (DEEP) at Stockholm University.

Improved pollination generates more seeds, which may increase storage time for certain crops. Researchers believe that by generating more seeds in individual apples, thus changing the mineral content, apples can be stored longer. Increasing the amount of time apples can be stored after harvest has great advantages for apple farmers, but more studies are needed to further investigate this link between pollination and seed production.

Photo: Ulrika Samnegård.

Higher apple harvest – not a threat to biodiversity

The study showed that the average production of apples in organic orchards is lower than in orchards utilising chemical pesticides for plant protection.

– Yet, a surprising result in the study was that the organic orchard with the highest production had considerably higher production than the average of the orchards using chemical pesticides. This shows us that there is potential to develop more environmentally friendly cultivations and at the same time obtain a high harvest, says Peter Hambäck.

For other crops, such as different grains, higher production usually leads to less biodiversity. This is because higher production is often achieved by cultivating larger fields packed more closely together, coupled with an intensive use of chemical pesticides. However, this is not the case for apple orchards according to the study:

–  Organic orchards have as expected, a higher biodiversity, meaning they have more pollinators and predatory insects. This higher biodiversity however, does not impede a high apple production. Farmers wishing to increase their apple production should be allowing wildflowers to grow in their orchards, says Peter Hambäck.

The Swedish part of the study was funded by Formas.

About the study

The title of the study is: "Management trade-offs on ecosystem services in apple orchards across Europe: direct and indirect effects of organic production", published in the Journal of Applied Ecology on November 13th.

For further information

Peter Hambäck, Professor at the Department of Ecology, Environmental and Botany (DEEP), Stockholm University Tel: +46(0)730-765126

E-mail: peter.hamback@su.se

All authors of the study:

Ulrika Samnegård, Georgina Alins, Jordi Bosch, Virginie Boreaux, Daniel Garcia, Anne-Kathrine Happe, Alexandra-Maria Klein, Marcos Minarro, Karsten Mody, Mario Porcel, Anselm Rodrigo, Laura Roquer-Beni, Marco Tasin, Peter Hambäck

The study is a collaboration between Stockholm University, SLU in Alnarp, University of Darmstadt, University of Freiburg, University of Oviedo, Autonomous University of Barcelona and SERIDA in Asturias.