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Pollination Automation: AgTech Plans for the Declining Insect Population.

Updated: Apr 14

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Perhaps you've heard the cries: Save the bees!

(It's right up there with the turtles.)

It's true, the bee population is suffering a rapid decline.

In fact, all pollinating insect populations are in decline.

For many people, three (3) questions might come to mind:

Question: What does that mean?

When reports say that pollinators are in decline, it means that the populations of these species are decreasing in number over time. This decline can be attributed to a number of factors, including habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and disease.

  1. Reduced numbers: Researchers have observed declines in the populations of many pollinator species, including bees, butterflies, and moths.

  2. Habitat loss: The destruction of pollinator habitats, such as forests and meadows, can significantly impact pollinator populations.

  3. Pesticide use: Pesticides can be harmful to pollinators, as they can kill or harm bees and other insects.

  4. Climate change: Changes in climate can impact pollinator populations by altering the timing of flowering and the availability of food sources.

"Climate change, intensive agriculture, and the use of pesticides and fungicides in farming is ravaging the world's bees. Commercial beekeepers in the United States lost 44% of their managed colonies in 2019, according to research from the University of Maryland." - CNN Business
butterflies and bees ghosts
"In agriculture, there are two main issues that are threats to pollinators," says Randall Cass, Extension entomologist at Iowa State University. "One is pesticide use, and the other one is habitat loss." - Successful Farming

Question: Why does it matter?

Pollinators play a crucial role in the reproduction of many plants, including crops that humans rely on for food. When pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, decline, it can have a significant impact on the health of ecosystems and the global food supply.

"According to the USDA Forest Service, about 80% of all flowering plants require assistance from animals for pollination and, without pollinators, many crops cannot propagate. As long as the pollinator population continues to decline, the global food supply is in danger." - WVU Today

Question: What can be done about it?

Research Scientists, Engineers, and Beekeepers are working hard to find solutions, and they are making some big strides towards solving the dilemma.

  • Plant pollinator-friendly gardens: You can plant gardens that provide food and habitat for pollinators, such as native wildflowers and flowering plants.

  • Avoid pesticide use: Pesticides can harm pollinators, so it is important to avoid using them whenever possible. If pesticides must be used, choose products that are least toxic to pollinators and use them sparingly.

  • Protect natural habitats: Protecting natural habitats, such as forests and meadows, can help to provide critical habitat for pollinators.

  • Support sustainable agriculture: Farmers can use practices that support pollinator health, such as planting cover crops and avoiding the use of pesticides during pollinator activity times.

  • Spread awareness: Educating others about the importance of pollinators and their decline can help to raise awareness and promote action.

  • Advocate for policies that support pollinators: Individuals can also advocate for policies that support pollinators, such as banning harmful pesticides and providing funding for habitat restoration.

  • Support research and monitoring: Researchers can continue to study the causes and impacts of pollinator decline, and monitoring programs can track pollinator populations and identify areas in need of conservation efforts.

Like most problems these days, they are turning to technology; specifically, Agricultural Technology (also known as AgTech.)

Here's the initiatives some of the AgTech companies and Farmer's are working on:

Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture - End-to-end artificial pollination comprised of 2 steps – collecting and distributing pollen. Mechanically harvested pollen machine separates it from the flower and stores the pollen for later use in fertilization. The pollinator uses LiDAR sensing technology to algorithmically reach as near as required to each tree, and uses electrostatic deposition onto the targeted flowers. The units are fast can operate day and night. They have seen success in their initial tests, increasing the propagation and production of nut tree (pistachio/almond) growers by roughly 25%.

West Virginia University - Associate Professor, Yu Gu is leading a team creating what they call "StickBug", a six-armed robot that assists humans in greenhouse environments. The team submitted their pollinator robot proposal to the National Robotics Initiative and was selected for $750,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal for development of this robot is to care for individual crops, improve food security due to insect declines, support indoor agriculture, and collect data on the crops. They are currently testing it on blackberries and tomatoes.

ApisProtect - Founded in 2017, this company uses "a combination of IoT and AI technologies [to] remotely extract and interpret data from hives, and then converts that data into insights about operations, which enables beekeepers to deploy their labor and resources efficiently, creating an extra $100 of value per hive annually." Thus far, the company has secured $3.6 million in seed funding from various notable VC investors.

Pollenity - Has raised $1.2 million in funding and was founded in 2015. They have developed the "Beebot" smart sensor device for monitoring hives. This technology is aimed at small and hobbyist beekeepers. The team is currently working with six universities across Europe on an EU-funded research project called HIVEOPOLIS. They also offer the "uHive" smart hive for beginners getting started in beekeeping.

PowerPollen - Launched in 2015, this US (Iowa-based) company has secured $13 million in Series B funding from investors. The company has already deployed their technology to "22 customers at eight different seed production centers across the states of Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois." They have since scaled operations to Puerto Rico, the mid-western US, and even sealed a deal with Bayer to license the technology to collect, preserve, and apply the pollen to crops.

Honey Bee Health Coalition - "Brings together beekeepers, growers, researchers, government agencies, agribusinesses, conservation groups, manufacturers, and consumer brands to improve the health of honey bees in general, and specifically around production of agriculture. They seek to improve honey bee health by addressing multiple factors influencing bee health, including hive pests and disease, forage and nutrition, and exposure to crop pesticides."

Bee Vectoring Technologies - Uses commercially-reared bees to provide sustainable delivery of highly targeted biological controls, bio stimulates, or plant amendments to crops. This eliminates the need for [human] hand pollination. Their product, called Vectorite, is a patented powder made from all natural material, and adheres to bees, aiding in the transport of the added active ingredients to the plants for pest control. The bees pick up the natural pesticide in the hives, then carry it with them to apply the pesticide to the plant as they collect the pollen from it.

Robot bees

Smart hives and LiDAR and algorithms, oh my!

There are many people out there working hard on the types of tech we need.

It's a shame we don't hear more about it.

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