Embrapa and Basf signed a technical-financial cooperation agreement to validate a technological model, starting from the 2022/2023 harvest, based on Good Agricultural and Beekeeping Practices. The purpose of the three-year project (set to last from 2022 to 2025) is to promote harmonious coexistence between soybean farmers and beekeepers, based on joint actions in three important Brazilian regions for soybean production: Paraná (Maringá), Mato Grosso do Sul (Dourados) and Rio Grande do Sul (São Gabriel). From the validation of a Good Agriculture Practices protocol, the institutions intend to prove that the development of these activities in integrated spaces can be beneficial for both sectors.
"For Embrapa, it is essential to propose partnership actions that promote good coexistence and stimulate respect for different field activities, focusing on the sustainability of production systems. In the specific case of the relationship between soybean farmers and beekeepers, it is important to value mutual responsibility, which means respecting the limits beyond their planting areas or properties", the General Head of Embrapa Soybeans, Alexandre Nepomuceno, highlights.
According to BASF Agricultural Solutions' Stewardship and Sustainability manager Maurício do Carmo Fernandes, the company has set as a goal to increase the share of solutions that significantly contribute to sustainability in 7% per year, as well as to continue to strengthen actions that promote the correct and safe use of solutions with Good Agricultural Practices.
"We believe that investing in this initiative will contribute to the legacy of agriculture. Everyone can benefit from this relationship of soybeans and honey production. BASF supports and promotes this joint project, which is why we have joined Embrapa in this challenge. After all, we seek the ideal balance between agricultural production and the environment", Fernandes says.
To monitor the initative's activities, Embrapa Soybeans' researcher Décio Gazzoni, explains that a protocol of Good Agricultural and Beekeeping Practices will be created, whose function is to guide the actions of the participating soybean farmers and beekeepers' work groups. "Our idea is to check the adequacy of this protocol and make the necessary adjustments, validating its feasibility in established geographical microregions, during the 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 soybean harvests", he points out.
Once validated, the results will compose a booklet containing a set of sustainable practices for soybean production with low impact on beekeeping. The booklet will also contain Good Beekeeping Practices to install apiaries near soybean crops. Other strategies for technology transfer and communication will be adopted throughout the project, such as the production of videos and printed materials.
"These actions aim to share a set of good practices for soybean cultivation, especially with regard to the use of plant health measures and Good Beekeeping Practices, creating basic recommendations that can be applied to the reality of the field", Gazzoni states.
Project provides training for soybean farmers and beekeepers in sustainable techniques
The project was arranged in order to include groups of beekeepers who own up to five apiaries and soybean farmers based near these hives. "Based on maps obtained from Google Earth, we will detail the landscape of the area to be used, with a maximum radius of three kilometers from the apiaries. The apiaries will be referenced geographically through the Plataforma de Informação sobre Apicultura e Meio Ambiente (Platform for Information on Beekeeping and Environment – GeoApis)″, Gazzoni adds.
The researcher points out that the methodology provides for the detailing of the surroundings of the apiaries to identify the components of the landscape – legal reserves, Permanent Preservation Areas (PPA), perennial crops, annual crops, pastures, among others. Its objective is to delimit the point of intersection and overlap of agricultural exploration areas and foraging areas for these apiaries' bees. According to him, the production system and management practices of each farmer will be described, and the observance of all Good Practices requirements will be checked.
In the project's schedule, meetings are planned to monitor the actions, as well as to train soybeans farmers and beekeepers to conduct sustainable techniques, procedures and attitudes. "Soybean farmers will be trained in appropriate plant health practices that involve management of crop pests (insects, diseases, nematodes and invasive plants). On the other hand, beekeepers will be trained in Good Beekeeping Practices", Gazzoni says.
Within the planning, the researcher says the administration of pesticides by air will be monitored, from the flight plan of agricultural aircraft, which will be made by a specialized company. "We want the administrations to provide the necessary protection to prevent any drift to areas you want to protect", he says. Once validated, the protocol will be turned into a booklet to be handed to both soybean farmers and beekeepers in the main regions of Brazil where there are beekeeping activities near soybean crops.
Soybeans and bees: a win-win alliance for sustainable agriculture
Soybeans are grown in virtually all Brazilian regions and occupy approximately 40 million hectares in the 2021/2022 harvest. Thus, in some cases, the soybean cultivated areas are close to traditional fixed apiaries, or even to where hives are placed in migratory apiaries.
Despite the challenge of harmonious coexistence, there are advantages for both sectors. According to Gazzoni, on the one hand, soybean bloom can be used as forage by beekeepers, especially those of Apis mellifera (africanized bees), in periods of low food availability. "In addition, we can say that, under adequate visitation conditions, soybean productivity can be increased in about 13% by the pollination process provided by bee visitation in soybean", Gazzoni says.
To examine the effect of bee pollination on soybean productivity, three experiments were conducted in Embrapa Soybeans' experimental field, in Londrina, Paraná, in soybean harvests from 2017/2018 to 2019/2020. Three treatments were used in the methodology: the first allowed the bees free access to the soybean crops; the second consisted of inserting a Apis mellifera beehive inside a caged soybean plot; and the third kept a caged soybean plot with no access of bees or any other pollinator.
According to Gazzoni, bee visitation during soybean flowering was monitored throughout the whole flowering period, with bee counts held at 9 o'clock, 10 o'clock and 11 o'clock. "We could observe that the number of bees was higher at 11 o'clock, which is an important indicator for planning agrochemical sprays on soybeans", he explains.
During the three years of the study, the average increase in soybean production was of 639 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha), that is, 12.97%, in the caged plots with a bee colony and 274 kg/ha (5.58%) in the uncaged plots, when compared with the caged plots that did not allow pollinators access", he reports.
Management of apiaries
One of the first steps suggested to beekeepers to ensure the adequate quantity and quality of honey production is the maintenance of healthy bees and colonies with a large number of individuals, Gazzoni says. In this sense, the researcher also recommends periodically replacing the queen, managing combs, respecting the floral calendar, cleaning the surroundings and food supplementation, if necessary. "It is recommended that beekeepers make fortnightly reviews in their colonies to monitor their development and carry out the necessary management", he says.
Another guideline is to maintain a minimum distance of 500 meters from areas with traffic of people and animals in order to avoid accidents. "Apiaries should also be at a minimum distance of 50 meters from crop areas in order to avoid colony losses due to the drift of plant health products", he says. "Preferably, natural barriers should be used around the apiaries, such as elephant grass, live fences, tall shrubs such as pink ball trees, among others", he adds.
Regarding the positioning of the colonies, Gazzoni explains that, for honey production, it is recommended to use three colonies per estimated hectare of bee forage, since forage bees seek food within a radius of, 2.5 kilometers at most. "If there is competition between bees for honey production, productivity can be impaired. Similarly, overlapping apiaries should be avoided. The optimal distance from one apiary to another is 5 kilometers."
Good practices for soybeans
Regarding soybean farmers, Gazzoni emphasizes the need to respect and adopt agronomic recommendations for the cultivation of soybeans in all stages. The researcher reinforces the importance of correctly applying pesticides, with attention to all the necessary care for the conservation of bee colonies that were created and also of native species. "Soybean farmers must fully comply to the Integrated Soybean Pest Management and give special attention to better practices of technology application", he says.