Company uses bees to apply, on demand, fungicide to plants.
Company uses bees to apply, on demand, fungicide to plants.
By Andrew Joseph, Editor
Farmers have long utilized honeybees to help pollinate their plants. Still, thanks to the efforts of Canadian researchers for the concept, and a Canadian company for helping commercialize it successfully, we have a precision ag technology called bee vectoring.
In 2020, the University of Guelph created a Bee Vectoring Project, whereby bees would pick up small particles of a biocontrol agent on their legs and feet as they left their hive.
And bees being bees, even with the biocontrol element on them, they would fly to and step all over nearby flowering crops.
First pioneered in 1990 at the university, by merely acting naturally, the bees would be the distributors of a biotechnological fungicide to the crops.
The U of G researchers found that the newfound technology of bee vectoring was successful for many crops, such as strawberries, raspberries, apples, coffee, cucumbers, and canola—basically, any flowering plant that a bee might find to be “tasty”.
Conceptually, bee vectoring is brilliant. From within the hive, bees tend to walk towards the exit. Noting that, researchers placed a diluted powder fungicide that sticks to the hairs on a bee’s legs as they move towards the hive’s opening.
The fungicide is not poured down into the hive; instead, it can be dispensed via a cartridge dispenser that can be snapped into a specially constructed bumblebee hive or mounted onto a honeybee hive.
As the bees fly off with a light dusting of fungicide “stuck” to their legs, it will easily rub off once the bee lands upon a crop flower.
Like any fungicide, its job is to protect the crop’s flower from disease—its only limit is that a bee needs to land on the flower with some of the powdery fungicide.
Call for the Bee Team
So how is it that all the other modern technologies are using electronics in myriad new ways—nanotechnology, AI, etc.—but we’re here touting a concept about as far away from a mechanical delivery option as possible?
Bee Vectoring Technology (BVT) is a high-tech company with its production facility and head office located in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada (immediately west of Toronto). However, its chief executive officer is based in Sacramento, California.
There’s nothing wrong with spraying technology as it is—even with precision ag technologies in place that spray only where it is told to spray—yet BVT said that bee vectoring is much more precise in the application of fungicide, which means that there is less waste of the product and that the farm gets to save money.
BVT’s fungicide is non-toxic to the bees, plants, or humans who will eventually consume the agricultural crop.
Acknowledging that bee vectoring has been around for a long time, BVT said it believes itself to be the first company to take it to a commercial level.
Its company scientists are the ones who found the naturally derived active ingredient in the pesticide and realized that the concept of bee vectoring would be ideal for a delivery method.
Now, there are a few other bee vectoring companies worldwide. Still, the Canadian BVT said they are the true pioneers and experts in the field, having completed many successful trials for many happy customers.
The only problem is that it doesn’t have permission to legally perform bee vectoring in Canada. Yet.
However, the company has submitted its technology and product for Canadian registration, and as of this writing, is awaiting approval.
BVT does, however, have a Canadian permit to test its processes in specific crops and areas, and after the completion of some of the planned trials, it has received promising results.
Unfortunately, the Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), responsible for pesticide regulation in Canada, cannot provide a completion date for its analysis of BVT and its technologies.
As such, there is no clear-cut answer as to when it can be seen and fully utilized within—though the company said it would not be opposed to any Canadian growers or retailers who might help put the BVT dossier at the top of the pile.
Currently, BVT only has registration to sell its product in the US, but it has applied to and is in the process of applying to other key countries.
Talking to BVT, CAAR learned how precision vectoring would alter the precision agriculture landscape—in a good way.
Bee vectoring works in a similar manner to a reverse pollination methodology.
In a natural environment, a bee will bring pollen from flowering crops back to the hive, but via bee vectoring, the bees take a bio-fungicide out to the flowering crops.
Bees leave their hive by walking to the entrance. As they do so, BVT has placed trace amounts of specially formulated powder on the floor of the hive. The powder contains BVT’s active ingredient, Clonostachys rosea CR-7, and a product the company calls Vectorite.
Vectorite allows the bio-fungicide to stick to the hairs on a bee’s legs, enabling them to carry it out to the plants. Landing on a flower, the simple movement of the bee on the flower will allow spores of the fungicide to fall away onto the plant, allowing Clonostachys rosea CR-7 to colonize the plant and prevent diseases from setting up.
The main goal is to prevent the fungal disease from hitting the crop field, and with the busy little bees taking the fungicide to individual crops as they seek out pollen for the hive, it ultimately saves money for the crop farmer, who will not have to spray any more expensive chemical fungicides.
BVT said that bee vectoring will not be as effective if a disease outbreak has already begun, but at least the farmer will still have their chemical fungicides ready to tackle a harmful outbreak.
The company said that for farmers that use bee vectoring, because they no longer have to consistently apply chemical fungicide since they are using BVT’s biologically derived pesticide, it prevents diseases from building up resistance due to chemical overuse.
Numerous trials in other locales have shown that Clonostachys rosea CR-7 can contribute to an increased yield of 15 to 30 percent. Regardless of those percentages’ high or low end, any farmer would obviously find it a huge bonus.
Okay, so bee vectoring can add disease prevention to the plant, help increase crop yield, and save on all of the associated costs regarding chemical spraying, such as the spray, farmer time, and fuel.
The BVT biological methodology uses significantly less water, has no re-entry intervals (farmers or farm workers can work while the bees treat the crop), is organic, and doesn’t require large equipment.
And, regardless of farm size, all can cost-effectively use bee vectoring. BVT is saying that its process is cheaper—it’s comparable in price to a traditional chemical spray.
However, with the Clonostachys rosea CR-7 product, crops receive a daily-delivered product—right to the targeted area. Chemical or spray applications are limited to maybe once or twice during pollination.
To show farmers how well its bee vectoring technology works, BVT will always try to isolate the fields where the product is being applied. Farmers can see firsthand how a field that uses bee vectoring stacks up against a non-BVT-treated lot at harvest time.
BVT uses honeybees and bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) to deliver the fungicide to farmer crops. Both are readily available and are the standards used by companies performing commercial pollination.
Because bees have a particular sense of taste and prefer some flower pollen over others, BVT’s process works with blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, almonds, strawberries, and some cherries. The bees will work on any pollinated crop that BVT’s bio-fungicide will also affect, including canola.
Because the bees prefer some pollen over others, BVT said that some farms could struggle with pollinating as “better tasting” pollen becomes more available; however, bees, much like human beings, tend to feed on whatever source is the closest, which in this case is the field where the hive is placed.
The company said it only uses two hives per acre for a product like canola. During the peak summer season, with a singular hive having about 30,000 bees, BVT expects nearly 15,000 bees to go out and forage or fly out to canola plants.
At a typical 100-acre canola field, a farmer would require 200 hives, with 15,000 foraging bees per hive, or a total of 3 million bees.
Of course, every hive varies in the number of bees present and the number of bees that will go out and forage—but the point is, many bees are required to protect 100 acres of canola.
The Clonostachys rosea CR-7 powder remains in the hive during the entire pollination period for the bees to carry to the flowers.
Bee vectoring is slower than the mechanical spraying method, but the hives remain in the field until pollination is complete. Blueberries can take four to eight weeks; strawberries take a few months; and canola takes two to three weeks.
As well, the type of bee used is essential and relates to how BVT deploys them. Honeybee pollination is affected by temperature, while bumblebees are less sensitive to ambient temperature.
But isn’t there a global shortage of bees? Yes, there is. Wild honeybees pollinate over 100 crops, such as nuts, vegetables, berries, citrus, and melons. Since 2005, honeybees have faced the challenges of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), a combination of parasites, pesticides, starvation, and climate change contributing to large die-offs of the bee population.
During 2023, Canadian beekeepers will have, on average, lost half their colonies, with some seeing an almost complete CCD.
However, please note that we said “wild” honeybees.
As BVT explained to CAAR, it is essential to distinguish between the commercial bees BVT uses and native bees.
BVT stated that commercially raised and managed bees (honeybees and some bumblebees) are doing well because they are well managed by professional beekeepers and are treated for diseases.
And although some years can indeed be challenging, even for a commercial hive, they tend to bounce back during the summer months.
Recognizing that beekeepers of every kind stress out over their bee populations and their health, commercial bees such as those utilized by BVT are seeing an increase in numbers as the demand for commercial pollination continues to rise.
But that doesn’t mean we should disregard the plight of the native bees, which do need our attention and care. To learn more, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxHu46YKnZg.
For more information on precision bee vectoring, visit the BVT website at www.beevt.com.
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