Read Time: 4 minutes

The value of pollinators to ecology and the economy

The Beeconomy: Economics and Insect Pollination

Many areas of modern agriculture depend on pollinators. Every season pollination from honey bees, native bees, and flies deliver billions of dollars (U.S.) in economic value. In many regards, they serve a key role in the global economy. But what is the real value of these important insects? If they were public companies, how would they stack up in the global marketplace?

Between $235 and $577 billion (U.S.) worth of annual global food production relies on the direct contribution of pollinators.a

Welcome to the

beeconomy

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Welcome to the

beeconomy

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The Honey Bee Marketplace

Pollinator:

Honey Bees

Apis mellifera

Market Cap:

$20 BillionB

Managed honey bees are the most valuable pollinators in terms of agricultural economics. These hyper-efficient insects can provide pollination to virtually any crop. Almonds are almost entirely dependent upon honey bee pollination. Without honey bees, yield for blueberries, squash, watermelon, and other fruits would be greatly reduced, driving up prices and disrupting the marketplace. According to the USDA, a honey bee colony is worth 100 times more to the community than to the beekeeper—meaning the value they deliver extends well beyond their actual price.c

Honey bee pollination has helped make fruits, nuts, and vegetables more accessible to consumers.
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A Sweet Industry 

Honey is simply a by-product of pollination. But this sweet nectar is an economic driver in its own right. Used commercially for food, skin creams, anti-aging lotions, and medical wound dressings, over 160 million pounds of honey is produced in the U.S. alone by these remarkable insects every year. In 2013, the honey crop was valued at over $300 million (U.S.)d 

Beeswax and pollen are also produced by these insects, and are used in lip balm and other cosmetic products. Propolis, a resinous sealant created by bees to construct their hives, serves as a varnish for stringed musical instruments, and in some countries serves as toothpaste or mouthwash.


Industrious Native Bees

Pollinator:

Wild Bees

Bumble bees, alfalfa leaf cutter bees, hornfaced bees, and orchard bees

Market Cap:

$4 Billione

Wild species like bumble bees and alfalfa leaf cutter bees are often not recognized for their contribution to modern agriculture. But these insects provide a valuable supplement to commercial honey bee colonies—even pollinating certain crops more efficiently than their domesticated counterparts. During bloom, honey bees and native insects partner to provide pollination for berries, alfalfa, and citrus fruits. Although their actual economic value is much smaller than domestic honey bees, the value of wild bees is significant. Aside from maintaining habitat to attract them, native bees arrive at no cost to farmers yet still help improve the quality and quantity of their harvest.  

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Over 4,000 different species of bees contribute to pollination.

Fruitful Chocolate Flies

Pollinator

The Little Midge

Cecidomyiid, Ceratopogonid midges

Market Cap

$5.7 BillionA

The cacao plant requires a very particular climate to thrive. One reason is the crop’s reliance on wild pollinators found in these subtropical habitats. A type of fly known commonly as a “midge” provides pollination similar to bees.

 

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Cacao farms in Africa, Australia, and South America rely on this fly the size of a pinhead to crawl into the tiny flowers of a cacao plant. Valued at over 100 billion dollars (U.S.), the chocolate industry is dependent upon pollinating flies like the little midge.f,g,h

84% of commercially grown crops are insect pollinated.I

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84% of commercially grown crops are insect pollinated.I

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The Economic Value of Pollinators

The leaders of modern agriculture understand both the economic and ecological importance of pollinators. Each season pollinators provide a service that boosts yields and quality, creates value for farmers, and drives the global food supply. That is why the industry has made concerted efforts to continue the rich tradition of working alongside and in cooperation with local wildlife and domestic pollinators.

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The Economic Value of Pollinators

The leaders of modern agriculture understand both the economic and ecological importance of pollinators. Each season pollinators provide a service that boosts yields and quality, creates value for farmers, and drives the global food supply. That is why the industry has made concerted efforts to continue the rich tradition of working alongside and in cooperation with local wildlife and domestic pollinators.

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Protecting pollinators is key to creating progress.

Without pollinators, more than 39 different crops would see a decline in production.k To meet demand, modern agriculture would be left to pursue more intensive and less environmentally sustainable practices. More land would likely be needed to match current production levels. Farming these greater land masses would also result in more emissions from the increased operation of tractors and other machinery. And by expanding the physical footprint of farms, wild habitat risks being displaced or disrupted. These tiny insects play a big role in helping modern agriculture grow more, while using fewer natural resources.

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