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How heatwaves are creating a pollen crisis

C C Offline

EXCERPTS: . . . Even with adequate water, heat can damage pollen and prevent fertilisation in canola and many other crops, including corn, peanuts, and rice. For this reason, many farmers aim for crops to bloom before the temperature rises.

[...] Faced with a warmer future, researchers are looking for ways to help pollen beat the heat. They're uncovering genes that could lead to more heat-tolerant varieties and breeding cultivars that can survive winter and flower before heat strikes. They're probing pollen's precise limits and even harvesting pollen at large scales to spray directly onto crops when weather improves.

At stake is much of our diet. Every seed, grain, and fruit that we eat is a direct product of pollination, explains biochemist Gloria Muday of North Carolina's Wake Forest University. "The critical parameter is the maximum temperature during reproduction," she says.

[...] The concern ... is that if heat is destroying pollen, nutritional stress will cause female bees to make more male eggs, which require less pollen to produce. But male blue orchard bees are less useful to a blueberry grower, since only the females pollinate and lay eggs to start the next generation. To compensate for pollen loss ... growers might consider planting strips of wildflowers that are more heat tolerant and could provide pollinators with additional nutrients.

There are also some technological fixes. [...] PowerPollen is an Iowa-based ag tech company focused on improving pollination for producers of hybrid corn seed – a crop in which pollen fails at temperatures above 104F (40C).

Using a tassel-shaking collection device attached to a tractor, the company gathers large quantities of ripe pollen in fields, then stores those living pollen grains in a controlled environment. PowerPollen returns to apply that pollen when weather conditions favour fertilisation – typically no later than five days after collection. The window sounds small, but it could enable farmers to dodge an especially hot day. The company is working on extending this time frame and on applying its technology to other crops.

For some, a simpler solution may be switching crops altogether... (MORE - missing details)

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