The Value of Pollinators to Commercial Farmers
It is no secret, pollinators are essential to the health and well-being of our planet, playing a vital role in our ecosystems and food systems. From bees to butterflies, these creatures help to pollinate plants, enabling them to produce fruits, vegetables, and other crops that make up a significant portion of our diets. In fact, studies suggest that more than 70% of global crop production relies on pollinators. However, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, pollinators are facing numerous challenges, including habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. Fortunately, technology is offering some exciting new solutions to help protect and support these important species. In this article, we will explore some of the most recent technology aimed at helping pollinators, and the potential impact these innovations could have on the future of our planet.
Solving Agriculture’s Strain on Bees with Precision Pollination
As we’ve discussed before, bees are responsible for more than 70% of pollination required by crops around the globe. With the rising commercialization of apiaries over the past few decades, it is easy to understand how the practice of “renting out bee colonies” — amongst other contributing factors — can put a strain on bee health. This, in addition to tracking and monitoring rented bees, can prove to make things difficult for commercial farmers and apiarists to optimize pollination efforts in hopes of increasing crop yield and quality.
This is where California based startup BeeHero is trying to make a difference. BeeHero has been working on creating the largest bee and pollination dataset for several years. Their goal is to leverage this data to optimize pollination. Through their platform, BeeHero provides farmers with “precision pollination as a service,” which allows commercial beekeepers to remotely monitor and track their apiaries. The company plans to integrate new tools into their platform to provide growers with a more accurate and real-time view of their crop development. This will help them make better decisions and ultimately achieve better crop outcomes. By improving crop yield and quality, BeeHero’s efforts will ideally create a more sustainable approach to bee rentals while simultaneously supporting the increasing global demand for food.
Could Bee Vitamins Increase Pollination Performance?
We recently discussed the first approved bee vaccine that protects against American Foulbrood disease (AFB). While this is exciting news, farmers and apiarists are also enthusiastic about the latest bee superfood which is proving to increase the performance of these buzzing pollinators. Biotech startup, Beeflow, which is based out of Argentina, is focused on “helping farmers address crop pollination challenges with nature-based solutions to drive yield and quality.”
The team at Beeflow has created supplements for bees. These supplements use amino acids which are sourced from flower nectar and plant hormones aimed at strengthening a bee’s immune system. Apiarists typically feed Beeflow’s plant-based formula to the bees on a weekly basis and the results to date have been nothing short of impressive. By boosting not only the bees’ immune systems, but their ability to perform in stressful environments, like cold weather, Beeflow’s data suggests that their nutrient-rich bee supplement allows bees to make seven times the number of flights in low temperatures compared to bees without the supplement. Beeflow suggests that through their technology, they are able to increase various crop yields by 20-90%.
Reducing the Burden of Bees with Bio-mimicking Pollination
What if farmers were able to help pollinators — and humans — by reducing the burden we place on bees by holding them responsible for pollinating crops? The concept of artificial pollination is far from a new concept. In fact, some farmers who grow in greenhouse environments have been integrating various tools to supplement pollination for years. However, artificial pollination is much more difficult to perform outside of a greenhouse or mixed-light growing environment.
BloomX, a startup based out of Israel, is focused on making effective and efficient outdoor artificial pollination a reality. By creating user-friendly and crop specific mechanical pollinating devices, BloomX states that they “empower growers to effectively manage and attain control over the entire pollination process without exploiting bees.”  For example, their device developed for blueberry cultivators is designed to mimic the buzz of the plant’s natural pollinators. The electric device uses mechanical arms mounted to an electrically powered driving unit, which vibrate the stems of the blueberry plants, resulting in the release of pollen grains on the flower’s stigma.  BloomX is actively developing numerous crop-specific devices.
In fact, BloomX data suggests that their devices and platform can improve a farmer’s yield productivity by up to 30% — all while using existing irrigation and fertilizer inputs. Additionally, BloomX’s platform doesn’t just take a blind approach to pollination. By using predictive A.I. alongside a large swath of environmental data, farmers are provided with information surrounding the optimal window for bio-mimicking pollination. By reducing this burden that we’ve put on bees, tech like BloomX can also improve the sustainability of commercial agriculture while shrinking its environmental footprint.
Although there are countless reasons that we should be concerned with the massive impact humans have on the planet, one can hopefully find some solace in knowing that some of the most innovative minds are steadily working towards solutions to minimize our footprint. From autonomous pest monitoring to crop monitoring agricultural drones, the exciting advances in the world of commercial agriculture may very well be the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of satiating the global food demand while securing our planet’s sustainable future.