Protecting the Birds and the Bees

Articles   |   In the Media
Posted on September 17, 2021

Original Article Source: Global AgInvesting

Protecting the Birds and the Bees

Article By: Ashish Malik CEO, Bee Vectoring Technologies

Contributing to over one third of the world’s crop production, pollinators are vital for agricultural producers and consumers alike. Flies, birds, butterflies, beetles, wasps, bats, moths and – perhaps best well-known for their pollination services – bees visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and then transport pollen grains as they move from location to location. Over 1,200 crops, including fruits and vegetables, nuts, oils, fibers and raw materials, rely on pollinators.

In economic terms, these small but mighty workers add $217 billion to the global economy. In the U.S. alone, pollination by managed honey bee colonies adds at least $15 billion to the value of U.S. agriculture annually through increased yields and superior-quality harvests.

While pollinators are key to enhancing food production, they also contribute to healthy ecosystems and habitats: cleaner air, stabilized soils, and robust wildlife populations.

The decline in pollinator populations around the world has been well documented for several years. Bees in particular, both wild and colonized, have been dropping in alarming numbers. In North America, the number of areas populated by bumblebees has fallen 46 percent, while in Europe, a 17 percent decline has been seen.

Whole colonies of commercial honey bees have been wiped out due to the still unexplained phenomena Colony Collapse Disorder. Between April 2020 and April 2021, U.S. beekeepers reported a loss of 45.5 percent of their managed honey bee colonies.

A number of biotic and abiotic culprits are at hand. The over-use of pesticides, pathogens, parasites and pests, limited food resources, climate change (though there is debate around this cause), habitat loss, poor beekeeping management and land-use changes have all been shown to affect bee colony health.

There is agreement that increasing exposure to parasites and pathogens are an essential part of the problem. Parasitic Varroa mites, which have decimated honey bee populations, and American foulbrood, a fatal bacterial disease of honey bee brood, have greatly contributed to the demise of colony populations.

Pesticide over-use is another major problem. The cumulative effect of too many direct insecticides – which can kill bees – and fungicides can cause a variety of disorders, affecting both the overall health of bee colonies and sometimes death.

The challenge faced by farmers – who on the one hand want to raise healthy and profitable crops but on the other are increasingly recognizing the need to protect wild and commercial bee populations – is an epic one, but it’s not without solutions.

Sustainable farming practices to help conserve bee populations include increasing biodiversity by adding trees, hedgerows or different flowering plants along the edges of fields, crop rotations, the use of cover crops (like clover and alfalfa), and landscape conservation.

Agricultural innovations, including Bee Vectoring Technology (BVT)’s patented bee vectoring technology, offer one environmentally-friendly solution. BVT uses commercially-managed bees to deliver targeted crop controls through the natural process of pollination.

The system is simple and effective. An inoculum dispenser is incorporated into the lid or at the exit of a commercial bee hive. Bees enter the dispenser through a one side and exit through the other. As they do so, they walk across trays filled with BVT’s proprietary Vectorite – an organic carrier agent stacked with bio-controls (microbes) – that attaches harmlessly to the bees.

As the bees pollinate crops, they deliver the beneficial microbe contained in the Vectorite directly to where the plants are most susceptible to many fungal diseases – the flower. Vectorite contains CR-7, a biological fungicide (as opposed to a synthetic pesticide) for control of common fungal diseases, including Botrytis Grey Mold. 

The solution is environmentally and bee-friendly, at a comparable cost to traditional practices. It doesn’t use any fossil fuels or water, and also allows the farmer to reduce the amount of synthetic pesticides he or she uses. The bees, in a sense, are helping themselves.

And farmers win too: those using the system have seen yield increase in the range of up to 25 – 30 percent and a return on their investment (ROI) of 20x.

BVT’s system is applicable to a variety of crops and currently focuses on six: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, almonds and sunflowers. Many other crops share the same diseases and pests as these six, including susceptibility to BotrytisSclerotinia, and more. These include apples, tomatoes, canola, curcubits (cucumbers, marrows, zucchini, melons, squash and pumpkins), stone fruits (cherries, peaches, apricots), almonds, pears, kiwi, peppers, and eggplants, and represent future opportunities for the technology.

Currently the system uses both commercially managed honey and bumble bees.

As the world’s population and need for food continue to increase, the commercial beekeeping industry has also expanded dramatically in the past few decades. Apart from producing honey, a large portion of beekeepers’ revenue comes from renting hives to farmers for pollination services. In 2018, some 1.8 million colonies were shipped to California just to pollinate the almond crop. Beekeepers are paid up to $200 per hive during a crop’s flowering period, and they receive premiums for bigger, healthier hives with more foraging bees that perform pollination.

Within the growing industry, the race is on to find solutions – whether scientific, technological, or otherwise – to the many challenges bee populations face. Whereas in the past beekeeping was largely an art, built on practices from over 150 years ago, as opposed to a science, the shift is on to utilize more data and science to improve the pollination service and make it more consistent.

For example, many beekeepers have started using sensors that can be placed inside a hive to automatically monitor environmental conditions in hives and alert beekeepers to arising problems. With the ability to record and transmit colony data such as temperature, humidity, bee movement, sound and signs of pest infection, the sensors, when combined with machine-learning algorithms, have the potential to reduce large-scale losses.

Several beekeeping operations have partnered with tech companies to test hive-monitoring sensors.

Another technological advancement includes automated and autonomous beehives – which are solar-powered and use robotics, artificial intelligence, imaging, a software platform and a mobile application to monitor and care for honey bees around the clock.

Bees and other pollinators are indispensable actors in the agricultural arena, performing a role no others can. While under threat from many different directions, innovative solutions, such as BVT’s system, can help both the farmer and the bee. The pollinators, and those they service, depend upon their adoption.

**All views, data, opinions and declarations expressed are solely those of the author(s) and not of Global AgInvesting, GAI News, or parent company HighQuest Group.