Bumblebees used for targeted pesticide deliveries
The BVT system sees Bumblebees carry tiny amounts of natural pesticides and beneficial fungi and apply them at the point where their needed – the flower.
Chemical pesticides are generally a bad thing for the environment and pollinators like bees that our agriculture relies on. Now a company out of Vancouver, Canada, called Bee Vectoring Technology (BVT) has brought the two together in a system that uses bees to deliver tiny amounts of natural pesticides and beneficial fungi while pollinating crops.
Both highly efficient and sustainable, the low-tech “inoculum dispenser system” as the company calls it, is incorporated into the lid of commercial bumblebee hives. So when the bumblebees leave their hive, they first must walk across a tray dusted with organic pesticide powder that’s picked up by their fuzzy legs and bodies.
The unwitting bees then fly off to do their typical bee thing – pollinating the flowering buds of apple trees, strawberry plants, canola and other crops. As they pollinate, the bumblebees leave minute amounts of pesticide from their bodies at the exact point where they need delivering – inside the flower.
The powder the bees carry is made up of a recipe of organic compounds containing crop controls and other beneficial fungi or bacteria, including a strain of a naturally-occurring fungus which is effective in controlling a variety of diseases caused by fungal pathogens. It works by outcompeting the bad fungi and is commonly found in the environment frequented by bees and plants, and is harmless to humans as well. The fungal strain increases a plant’s nutritional uptake, helping it grow and produce more fruit, while increasing the shelf life of certain fruits, such as berries.
If you want to commercially grow crops that develop fruit from flowers, you need to effectively apply pesticides, ensure flowering buds are pollinated, and hopefully do it in a way that’s doesn’t hurt the environment or your bottom line. But pesticide application is a messy job and spraying plants and trees can be woefully inexact. Every bloom needs to be touched, but with leafy canopies, especially on apple trees, much of the pesticide is lost while missing its mark.
According to Michael Collinson, company president and CEO, only 1 percent of sprayed pesticide ends up where it’s supposed to, while the other 99 percent ends up on the ground or as runoff. Pesticide spray can drift with the breeze, while hundreds of gallons are used in the mixture, contributing to a less than sustainable process.
Besides the environmental issues involved with chemical pesticides, as many as half the flowers may open and die between sprayings and remain untreated. The bees deliver the pesticides every day to buds that are in flower, while the amount of pesticide used drops from kilograms to mere grams.
Bumblebees visit up to 10 flowers per minute, with commercial beehives containing around 200 to 300 bees. Bumblebees fly in relatively lower temperatures than honey bees and can carry 10 times as much pollen or inoculant.
BVT recently completed its first share offering, with proceeds to be used on further development of the company’s new manufacturing plant in Mississauga, Ontario, obtaining EPA approvals and international patent registration of the BVT system.