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Honeybee’s role in crop pollination examined

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The plight of honeybees was discussed at the recent virtual Seeds of Our Future conference.
Western Growers Center for Innovation-affiliated event coincided with the annual World Honeybee Day.

“The Seeds of Our Future conference has been a Silicon Valley Forum signature event for five years,” said Executive Director Denyse Cardozo as she announced this year’s theme of The Flight of the Honeybees.

Joining this year with Western Growers Center for Innovation, the two-day event, presented just prior to the annual World Honeybee Day, shared insights on the honeybee’s role in crop pollination, farm-to-table food sustainability, environmental biodiversity, regenerative agriculture, and the latest Ag Tech investments and technology around the globe.

With a worldwide audience tuned in to learn about applicable innovations in artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors, and field data applications, Cardozo cited, “the dramatic decline of honeybees,” and WGCIT director Dennis Donohue termed the gathering, “a timely program to address a critical issue, one that a lot of people are working together to solve.”

Much of Day One was focused in Ag Tech Investment Insights Across the Globe with a panel discussion on investment trends aimed at abating bee decline.  Moderator Aaron Magenheim of Ag Tech Insight in Salinas Valley suggested these solutions should not be thought of in terms of “pieces.” 

“Lots of things need to come together to increase the odds of success,” he noted.

Panel members agreed there was an investment appetite for actual technology or proof of concept and as a result, more startups were spurred into reality resulting in more technology being made available.

“Companies with insight into market needs rise to the top of my in-box,” said Turlock-based Seana Day, partner in Culterra Capital. Bayer’s Derek Norman encouraged even more buy-in by reassuring, “You don’t need to raise a large amount of money in order to be successful.”

Saving honeybees

Another Bayer employee, entomologist and bee care manager Richard Rogers, who has spent 48 years keeping and studying bees, presented a keynote address called “Catch the Buzz.”  He focused on apiculture in transition and how IoT, the Internet of Things, would help drive that transformation.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said.  “Honeybees are not going to become extinct anytime soon, but commercial apiculture is currently at risk.  We need to maintain healthy colonies and digital tools will be vital to achieving that goal.

In attempting to put pollination in perspective, he advised, “Yield cannot be attributed solely to honeybees, but it’s the spark that starts the crop production engine.  They are the spark plug.”

Reviewing history with a notation that bee management is 8,500 years old, he stated that the type of hives used back in 1850 are the ones still in use today and “practices and tools of the industry need to evolve faster in order to achieve a faster transformation to put into place new best practices, achieve sustainability, and implement continuous improvement.”  He cited “implementation of smartness” with the invention of things like a robotic hives and low-cost satellite connectivity from anywhere that would make available open hive data.

“We need things like flight and cluster-hour modeling that will accurately reflect climate change from a bee’s perspective and dictate biological and condition-based triggers.   We still need a lot of research and development as it pertains to apiculture in IoT.”

In a second-day seminar on The Honeybee’s Vital Role in Nut Crops, moderator Candace Wilson of Green Venus emphasized that while most varieties required some kind of cross-pollination, no other crop relied on the process more intimately than almonds.

Stressing the need to keep bees alive and healthy to do their job, Danielle Downey, Executive Director of Project Apis m. noted that there were 4,000 species of bees in the U.S. with 1,600 of those species in California.  “And we need them because almonds require 85% of all available bees to accomplish pollination,” she said.

TAGS: honeybees
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