Aleksandra Sagan, Canadian Press
Posted on October 14, 2019 at 10:13.
When Dave Passafiume bumped into a few men at a conference looking for farmers to enlist bees in a test to distribute crop pests and diseases, he considered the severe losses he sometimes saw in his strawberry fields and decided to try.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," said the farmer, who operates an organic strawberry and apple operation in Markham, Ontario. – about 50 kilometers northeast of Toronto – with his wife.
Now he's been employing the bees for about eight seasons and says he loses much less of his crop to shape himself.
Bee Vectoring Technologies International Inc. (BVT) has devised a way for bees to provide a bacterial fungicide to blueberries, sunflowers and other crops to help protect them from disease in a method that claims to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, long considered the gold standard for approvals, recently certified BVT's proprietary ingredient, and the company now plans to begin selling the system to US farmers and streamlining its approval efforts in other countries, including the Canada.
"The goal has always been first in the US," said CEO Ashish Malik. "The reason is that it is the largest and only market for this technology."
In late August, the EPA approved Missiteuga, Ontario-based company Vectorite, the trademark of its proprietary bacterial fungicide, for use in commercial crops.
The company installs bee hives or bees on farms and installs special trays full of Vectorite into which the bees must pass, dusting their feet, before flying to pollinate nearby crops. The process works for fields of strawberries, sunflowers, apples, tomatoes, canola and blueberries. The system requires fewer chemicals, machines and water than traditional distribution methods, the company says.
The BVT had to prove that its method and Vectorite would not harm bees as part of the approval process.
Bee health and safety has been a major issue in the last decade, with the identification of Colony Collapse Disorder among bees. CCD occurs when most worker bees in a hive disappear, leaving behind the queen and some other bees, according to the EPA. The hive dies because it cannot sustain life without worker bees.
The food system depends on the bees, which pollinate much of the world's food supply. One in three bites of food people eat is made possible by pollinators such as bees, according to Bees Matter, a partnership of agricultural organizations that claims to have an interest in pollinator health.
The BVT suggests using bees instead of bees – although it can configure any type of hive – as bees can carry more vectorite and fly in a wider variety of climates.
The company has conducted a series of studies on the effect of technology on bees and adult larvae as part of the approval process, Malik said, adding that he is confident the process has no adverse impact on insects. He also asked the commercial beekeepers he works with to track down their colonies.
"The reality is that as we work with commercial beekeepers, if we had an adverse effect, we would automatically be out of business."
Several scholars who study bees would not comment on whether the process harms bees, citing lack of information.
Marla Spivak, a former MacArthur colleague and professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota, declined an interview, but sent a note saying, "I think we need more research into the health risks of fungicides before we use them." them as vectors ".
Since the EPA's approval, the company has big fast-growing plans.
The company is testing the system in the US, Canada and some other countries, Malik said, but can now start selling the system to US farmers.
With EPA approval in hand, the company expects easier access to other markets and is working to secure approvals in the European Union, Mexico and Canada – among other countries.
The price will be similar to conventional methods, he said, but will result in higher yields with less crop destroyed.
"It's not about saving money (for farmers). It's about giving them more revenue per acre."
Before listing bees, Passafiume would lose about 10% of its crop to mold in a dry year and up to 70% during a very bad and rainy season. With bees, Passafiume crops find almost zero gray mold.
"It's just a radical difference," he said.
The BVT plans to increase the number of diseases and pests it can help to prevent. He foresees a future in which bees deliver two or three safe biological plant protection products in one flight, Malik said.
"Through this process, the factory can now fight many different diseases and pests, as opposed to the ones our product addresses on its own."
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 13, 2019.