Bumblebees Have A New Job: Delivering Organic Pesticides

via en.wikipedia.org
via en.wikipedia.org

If you’re already out pollinating, why not just carry a little extra?

The humble bumblebee might help disrupt the multi-billion dollar synthetic pesticide industry. A new system uses bees to help deliver natural pesticides and beneficial fungi directly to plants—and because bees are so much more precise than the typical sprayers on farms, they can use a tiny fraction of the pesticide and make plants stronger.

“Imagine you have an apple orchard,” says Michael Collinson, president and CEO of Bee Vectoring Technology, the Vancouver-based startup behind the technology. “Because apple trees have a very large canopy, even though you may spray it and use a special type of spray that doesn’t go everywhere, you still won’t touch every bloom. Whereas the bees deliver product every single day, to every single bloom.”

The new system, originally developed by researchers at the University of Guelph, uses a tray filled with a patented mix of natural, beneficial microbes. The tray goes in a beehive that farmers already have. When bees head out to pollinate crops—their main job—they walk through the powder on the way, and end up delivering tiny helpful spores to flowers as they make their rounds.

Because the bumblebees deliver the powder directly to plants, they also help avoid runoff, a common problem with traditional pesticides. Typically, pesticide is mixed with hundreds of gallons of water and then sprayed everywhere. “99% of that is going to end up in the wrong place,” he says. “One percent ends up where it’s supposed to be, but 99% ends up in the water, or on the ground, or other non-targeted area.”

Normally, farmers can only spray once or twice while apple trees are in bloom, and because sets of trees bloom at different times, it’s easy to miss about half of the orchard. The bees can deliver their organic pesticide continuously, so fruit ends up stronger and more likely to make it to make it to the grocery store.

The special mix of powders also includes beneficial fungi that helps eliminate common diseases like botrytis, which causes mold. “When you go and buy strawberries and you put them in your fridge and they go gray and fuzzy, that’s botrytis,” says Collinson. “If you use our product from the beginning, you control that disease, and therefore you stop the fruit from actually starting to decay a lot sooner. In some cases we can make 10 to 12 days extra shelf life.”

The company has done years of testing to make sure the process is safe for bees.

Read more: Bumblebees Have A New Job: Delivering Organic Pesticides



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