Canadian company enlists bees to deliver crop protection, plans rapid expansion

Bee Vectoring Technologies International Inc. has created a way for bees to deliver a bacterial fungicide to crops

When Dave Passafiume bumped into some men at a conference looking for farmers to enlist bees in a test to distribute pest and disease control on crops, he considered the severe losses he sometimes saw on his strawberry fields and decided to give it a try.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said the farmer, who operates an organic strawberry and apple operation in Markham, Ont. — about 50 kilometres northeast of Toronto — with his wife.

He’s now been employing the bees for about eight seasons and says he loses much less of his crop to mould.

Bee Vectoring Technologies International Inc. (BVT) has created a way for bees to deliver a bacterial fungicide to blueberry, sunflower and other crops to help protect them from disease in a method it says is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, long considered the gold-standard for approvals, recently certified BVT’s proprietary ingredient and the company now plans to start selling the system to American farmers and expedite its push for approvals in other countries, including Canada.

READ MORE: UBC study shows honey bees can help monitor pollution in cities

“The target has always been the U.S. first,” said CEO Ashish Malik. “The reason being is it’s the single, biggest market for this technology.”

In late August, the EPA approved the Mississauga, Ont.-based company’s Vectorite, the brand name for its proprietary bacterial fungicide, for use on commercial crops.

The company sets up bumble bee or honey bee hives on farms and installs special trays filled with Vectorite inside that the bees must walk through, picking up the powder on their feet, before flying away to pollinate nearby crops. The process works for fields of strawberries, sunflowers, apples, tomatoes, canola and blueberries. The system requires less chemicals, machinery and water than traditional distribution methods, the company says.

BVT had to prove that its method and the Vectorite wouldn’t harm the bees as part of the approval process.

Bee health and safety has been a major issue over the past decade with the identification of Colony Collapse Disorder among honey bees. CCD occurs when the majority of a hive’s worker bees disappear, leaving behind the queen and a few other bees, according to the EPA. The hive dies as it can’t sustain life without the worker bees.

The food system depends on bees, which pollinate much of the world’s food supply. One out of every three bites of food people eat is made possible by pollinators like honey bees, according to Bees Matter, a partnership of agricultural organizations that say they have a vested interest in pollinator health.

BVT suggests using bumble bees over honey bees — though it can set up either type of hive — as bumble bees can carry more Vectorite and fly in a wider variety of climates.

The company conducted a number of studies on the technology’s effect on adult bees and larva as part of the approval process, said Malik, adding it’s confident the process doesn’t have any adverse impact on the insects. It also asked the commercial beekeepers it works with to track their colonies.

“The reality is, since we work with commercial beekeepers, if we had an adverse effect, we would automatically be out of business.”

Several academics who study bees wouldn’t comment on whether the process harms bees, citing a lack of information.

Marla Spivak, a former MacArthur fellow and an entomology professor at the University of Minnesota, declined an interview, but sent a note saying, “I think we need more research on the risks that fungicides pose to bee health before using them as vectors.”

Since the EPA approval, the company has big plans for rapid growth.

The company has been testing the system in the U.S., Canada, and some other countries, said Malik, but can now start selling the system to U.S. farmers.

With EPA approval in hand, the company expects increased ease of access to other markets and is working to secure approvals in the European Union, Mexico, and Canada — among other countries.

The pricing will be similar to conventional methods, he said, but will result in higher yields with less crop destroyed.

“It’s not about saving (farmers) money. It’s about giving them more revenue per acre.”

Before enlisting the bees, Passafiume would lose about 10 per cent of his crop to mould in a dry year and up to 70 per cent during a very bad, wet season. With the bees, Passafiume’s crops encounter close to zero grey mould.

“It’s just a radical difference,” he said.

BVT plans to increase the number of diseases and pests it can help ward off. It envisions a future where the bees deliver two or three biological, safe plant protection products in one flight, Malik said.

“By that process, the plant now can fight several different diseases and pests as opposed to the ones that our product by itself addresses.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Five rescued after boat crashes between Tofino and Ahousaht

“Ahousaht has always been a willing participant to save anyone who is in distress in our territory.”

Search continues for missing Tofino dog allegedly taken by tourists

Shannon Boothman fears Itska has been taken off Vancouver Island after sighting at Nanaimo ferry.

Northbound lanes re-open along Malahat after small rockslide near Goldstream

Drivers asked to use caution, clean-up crews have finished on-site

Port Alberni language pole becomes ‘spiritual journey’

Funding shortfall could prove to be saving grace for project

Fines bring an end to Tofino’s controversial Poole’s Land community

Michael Poole is selling the roughly 20-acre property.

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

In British Columbia temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal

UPDATED: Vancouver Island’s Joe gets suspended sentence in Teddy the dog cruelty case

Melissa Tooshley expected in court on Thursday in same case

Nineteen boats carrying invasive mussels stopped at B.C. borders

Waters of Columbia-Shuswap still test mussel-free

Woman ‘horrified’ after being told to trek 200 kilometres home from Kamloops hospital

‘I can’t get from Kamloops back to 100 Mile House injured, confused… no shoes, no clothes whatsoever’

Sentencing scheduled Tuesday for man who killed Belgian tourist

Sean McKenzie pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 28-year-old Amelie Sakkalis near Boston Bar

Canadian universities encourage exchange students in Hong Kong to head home

UBC said 11 of its 32 students completing programs in Hong Kong have already left

Midget no more: Sweeping division name changes coming to minor hockey in Canada

Alpha-numeric division names will be used for the 2020-2021 season and beyond

B.C. pushes for greater industry ‘transparency’ in gasoline pricing

Legislation responds to fuel price gap of up to 13 cents

B.C. woman ordered to return dog to ex-boyfriend for $2,000

After the two broke up, documents state, they agree to share custody of the dog, named Harlen

Most Read