Smashed avocado on toast has revolutionised breakfast and even been blamed for younger generations being unable to buy a house.
Avocado production has risen from 46,000 tonnes in 2008 to 86,000 tonnes in 2018. Over that period per person consumption rose from about 2.5 kg a year to almost 4 kg.
Avocado flowers open once for 2-6 hours as females, and again the next day as males. Therefore the pollen provider cultivar needs to have male flowers open when the main crop has female flowers open. The time that flowers open is dependent on overnight temperatures, and female flowers may not open until the afternoon or evening if temperatures were low. More than 20 grains of pollen are required for adequate pollination. About 3 avocados get produced for every 1,000 flowers.
Honey bees are often not the best avocado pollinators. They tend not to find the flowers that attractive (thought to be because of mineral content), and they do not forage at night. Depending on the area other insects may perform more pollination – bristle flies, blow flies, hover flies, lady beetles, moths, wasps, and others. However, honey bees are the most effective pollinators in some areas.
Stocking rates of 5 hives per hectare should result in at least 3 honey bees per tree in good weather. Nectar foragers will forage on both female and male flowers, pollen will stick to the hairs on their bodies and be transferred between flowers; pollen foragers are unlikely to contribute to pollination.
Tips for avocado pollination with honey bees:
- Have a pollination contract
- There should be a minimum of 8 frames with ¾ bee coverage and 4 frames of brood
- Encourage high demand for nectar foragers by not using pollen traps or feeding with sugar syrup
- Ensure to discuss the use of agrichemicals before use, and don’t spray pesticides during flowering
- Use the BeeConnected app
- Place hives when there is 5-10% flowering to encourage crop fidelity
- Spread the colonies evenly through the orchard in as small drops as is feasible
- Provide a water source
David Pattemore (Plant and Food Research NZ) discusses avocado pollination
- Facts at a Glance 2018/19 for the Australian avocado industry. Hort Innovation
- Maximise your avocado crop with better pollination. Plant and Food Research NZ and Hort Innovation
- Keogh R, Mullins I, Robinson A (2010) Pollination Aware Case Study: Avocado. AgriFutures Australia
- BeeAware, Plant Health Australia
- Somerville D, Frost E (2018) AgGuide: Pollination using honey bees. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Paterson NSW 2421
- This article was peer-reviewed by Steve Fuller and Elizabeth Frost.