Tracking Pollinators in Ireland

How technology is giving nature – and pollinators – a helping hand in Armagh

Gary McDonald Business Editor

Some of the staff and pickers at work in the Gilpin farm in Armagh

POLLINATOR: A bee inside a flower

NATURE – and the art of reproduction – is being given a helping hand in Co Armagh in a unique initiative where farmers are being assisted to track pollinators to maintain quality of produce and improve crop yields.

Retailer M&S is teaming up with agri-tech start-up AgriSound to provide in-field noise sensor technology to boost pollinator activity.

More than 70 per cent of the world’s food crops grown for human consumption rely on pollinators for sustained production, yield and quality.

And one of 18 sites across the UK chosen for the experiment is Gilpin Farms in Armagh, where sensors will be placed in its pumpkin patches.

Two in-field sensor trials were launched last year to help farmers better support pollinators like bumblebees and increase crop yields.

AgriSound technology allows farmers to track the number of pollinators visiting their farm in real-time and target specific interventions, like differing wildflower densities, for improving numbers and yields and quality of crops.

Now the technology is being scaled up across the UK to cover a diverse range of M&S’s fruit, veg and salad farms, with monitors covering 120 habitats and more than 1,000 hectares.

The technology will provide growers like Gilpins – which supplies M&S with carrots, leeks, pumpkins and Brussels sprouts – with access to real-time data and insights to help set their farms up to be more nature friendly.

Richard Gilpin, head of operations at Gilpin Farms, said: “The technology will be invaluable to help us monitor the pollinator activity across the whole farm, but particularly in the pumpkin crops.

“We currently bring in over 100 hives of bumble bees and honey bees to aid the pollination of the pumpkins, and the AgriSound technology will monitor how effective this is and also help us to make informed decisions about further interventions.

“We’re delighted to have been selected by M&S as one of the locations for this expansion and are excited to see what beneficial outcomes can be achieved by these relatively simple measures.

“If we can attract more pollinators to our farm, this will be a huge success.”

Andrew Clappen, technical director at M&S Food, added: “Improving biodiversity is at the forefront of our plans to help farmers become more resilient to the impact of climate change.

“Pollinators are the unsung heroes of farming – helping to improve yields and quality while benefitting the wider environment.”

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