Strawberry fields in Finland are plagued by grey mold, a fungus that quickly transforms scarlet berries into shaggy grey blobs, wrecking 20 percent of the country’s annual crop, on average.
But Finland’s organic fruit farmers have a swarm of new allies in the battle against grey mold. Dr. Heikki Hokkanen, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, has enlisted bees to carry biological treatments from flower to flower, warding off disease as they pollinate.
“Bees have body hairs that pollen sticks to, so it gets carried from flower to flower,” said Hokkanen. “They can also carry treatments such as microbes or fungi, providing dual ecosystem services for healthier organic crops.”
Hokkanen has studied the use of bees in fighting crop diseases at farms in Finland, Italy and Estonia. He presented his research at the international Innovations in Organic Food Systems for Sustainable Production and Enhanced Ecosystems Services conference held in Long Beach, CA, Nov. 1-2.
The biological agent used to fight grey mold in berries is a naturally-occurring soil fungus, gliocladium catenulatum. G. catenulatum works by harmlessly colonizing the strawberry flower, and preventing the grey mold from taking hold.