Wearing a white full-body suit with a square veil, the beekeeper looks otherworldly in the buzz of beehives and smoke. But their arduous work is vital to sustaining many global food crops that need to be pollinated. Daily tasks include assessing the health and production of bee hives: manually opening each hives regularly for inspection, ensuring that the queen bee is present and laying eggs and the worker bees are active, and looking for any signs of pests or diseases. Especially in the commercial beekeeping business-management At least hundreds of hives-this requires a lot of time, effort and expense. And the intensity of this work may make it difficult for beekeepers to detect signs of sickness in the hive early to prevent it from collapsing.
In the past few years, several companies have developed sensors to automatically monitor the environmental conditions in the hives and alert beekeepers to potential problems. The two companies said this can help the beekeeping industry find problems faster and reduce large-scale losses. Industry members and researchers agree that this technology can reduce the workload of beekeepers and keep more hives healthy. But it may not alleviate some of the larger problems that plague bees, such as infectious diseases and colony collapse.
Estimated loss of small and large beekeeping operations in the United States from April 2020 to April 2021 45.5% of coloniesAccording to a preliminary report released in June by the non-profit organization Bee Informed Partnership, this is the second highest loss rate since records were recorded 15 years ago. Dan Aurell, an entomologist at Auburn University who works with a partner, said the loss of 400 colonies (the number usually transported by trucks for pollination) could result in the cost of surgery as high as $80,000.
In the past few decades, the commercial beekeeping industry has expanded dramatically. These operations not only produce honey; A large part of their income From renting them Bee (Western honeybee) Honeycombs are used by farmers to pollinate almonds, apples, rapeseed and other crops. According to state data reported by Brittney Goodrich, now at the University of California, Davis, approximately 1.8 million colonies were shipped to California just to pollinate the 2018 almond crop.Beekeepers get paid Up to US$200 per hive during the flowering of the crop, Based on research published in 2019. They charge premiums A report from the US Department of Agriculture in June showed that for larger, healthier beehives, more bees pollinate.
In order to reduce manual work in the beekeeping industry, some businesses and hobbyists are installing new sensors in each beehive, the size of which is equivalent to that of a smartphone. They record colony data, such as temperature, humidity, bee movements, sounds, and signs of pest infestation, and transmit it to the software, allowing beekeepers to remotely monitor multiple beehives at once. Machine learning algorithms track data patterns from individual honeycombs and flag anomalies, such as temperature spikes or drops in bees entering and exiting. Based on this information, the beekeeper determines whether there is a problem and how to solve the problem through pest control, medical treatment, queen bee replacement, or other methods.
Several beekeeping industries have partnered with technology companies to test hive monitoring sensors.Hive data collected Bee protectionApisProtect’s marketing director Aoife O’Mahony said that an Irish-based company showed that sensors cut the time it takes for beekeepers to inspect beehives in half, allowing them to focus on those that require more attention.The technology can also help beekeepers identify weak hives, thereby reducing the number of times vehicles go to the apiary for manual inspections of bee colonies and cuts Costs associated with replacing weak hives, Omahoney said. ApisProtect provides monitors of more than 200 Euros (more than 235 US dollars), and an additional 4 Euros (about 5 US dollars) monthly software subscription fee.
Bee heroA startup in Fresno, California, is also developing sensors to track the activity of bees in hives rented to farmers. Yair Tygiel, BeeHero’s vice president of strategy and growth, said: “The workforce is by far the most challenging part of becoming a large commercial beekeeper, and being able to focus on goals makes a huge difference.” He added that deployment on the farm And monitoring higher quality beehives can reduce crop losses due to insufficient pollination.
At the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, entomologist William Mikel uses a variety of sensors, including a scale that calculates the fluctuations in hive weight when bees arrive and depart, to obtain behavioral and hive health data. Sensors help him find correlations between hive events, such as changes in bee foraging activities, weather events, flowering cycles of crops, or the use of pesticides. “Sensors are an incredible research tool for simulating colony dynamics and bee productivity,” Meikle said. “It turns out that scale and temperature monitors are very useful for the response variables of field experiments in bee colonies.” But in terms of preventing losses in a commercial environment, Meikle said, “Sensors are only part of the solution, not a solution in itself. “
Some industry members and representatives also hold ambivalent attitudes towards sensors. Matt Halbgewachs, a member of the executive committee of the American Honey Producers Association, said that although “practical applications are still limited, the idea of using technology to automate and improve efficiency is great.” The organization’s vice president, Chris Hiatt, said some of the things he tested in commercial operations The sensor successfully detected the no-queen phenomenon. He added that the technology “is like a dipstick” because it still requires intervention.
According to Julia Mahood, a master beekeeper in Georgia, sensors and other such monitors are not cheap, especially for smaller commercial beekeepers, who tend to have low profits. “In the end, I didn’t see them being used for commercial purposes,” she said.
Etienne Tardif is a beekeeping enthusiast in the Yukon region. He prefers to collect data by himself to adjust his general beekeeping recommendations and practices in the sub-arctic region. “I use my data to improve mine Decisions,” he said. “Some of these new systems with machine learning capabilities are trying to make decisions for you. “
Ernesto Guzman, director of the Bee Research Center at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said that in essence, using sensors and monitors can save beekeepers time and resources-but doing so may not greatly improve the condition of the bees themselves.
Guzman said that the sensor cannot solve the widespread and potential difficulties that bees face under conditions of commercial agricultural pollination practices that lead to colony collapse and high bee mortality. Like most pollinators, bees thrive in safe, diverse habitats with diverse food sources. Recent research results indicateHowever, a 2019 study found that when bees are deployed to pollinate crops, They are often stressed They were separated from transportation even before they were released into unfamiliar environments.In such an environment, bees Often only encounter one food source-The flowers of the single crop they are pollinating-Guzman reported in 2016.These limit the sources of pollen and nectar Can cause nutritional stressAccording to a 2018 study by a team of biologists at the University of Texas at Austin, this reduces the intestinal flora of bees and weakens their immune systems. Lack of nutrition, coupled with the use of pesticides and herbicides commonly used in agriculture, makes bees more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and viruses. Other findings exist Last few years.
Itai Kanot, co-founder of BeeHero, agrees that sensors alone cannot solve potential problems in commercial agriculture. Nonetheless, he said, “Monitoring and revealing the causes of colony deterioration and optimizing pollination is the first critical step to support the world’s food and agricultural needs.” ApisProtect emphasizes the value of its sensors in sorting weaker hives before transportation, thereby preventing Colonies are lost during the pollination process.
Nevertheless, Guzman believes that the new hive monitor can “reduce the impact rather than solve the problem,” he said. “Modernity is what kills bees.”