Company would use bees as agents to deliver bio-control products to plants
ATLANTIC CITY — Bees already do quite a bit for farmers who need pollination assistance in their crop production.
But a Canadian company showcased at the recent Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey Convention and Trade Show is getting bees to help even more.
“We’ve developed a technology that allows you to use commercial bees to vector bio-control products to farm crops to prevent damages,” said Sherri Tedford, senior research associate at Bee Vectoring Technologies.
BVT’s flagship product is called Vector 8-CR7 and is a safe strain for people, birds and animals.
The strategy is simple, she said.
“We use bees naturally occurring foraging behaviors to send targeted delivery of bio-controls to plants. The bees live in the bumble bee hive and you encourage them to walk through the Vector 7, and as they land on flowers, they deliver that to the crops, so you get really targeted delivery because the bees are going out every day.”
Various types of fungus and bio-controls are put into the hives of bumble bees and commercial honey bees. Both types of bees can do the work for the farmer.
Tedford showed slides of BVT’s bumble bee system and noted because bumble bees have smaller hives, they’re a lower maintenance system than commercial honey bees.
“If you’re somebody who’s not interested in having a beekeeper or you don’t want to use honey bees, you can use bumble bees as an alternative,” she said. As larger bees, bumble bees carry more of the bio-controls to each flower.
The farmer changes the vector packs every three or four days.
BVT’s systems are solar powered and farmers can choose various plans based on the size and activity of their hives.
“There’s a little brain in here that will tell it if conditions are ripe for bees to be going out and doing their pollinating, and it won’t run if it’s raining and it won’t run overnight,” she said. BVT’s bio-pesticide is called Clonostachys Rosea, CR7, and the U.S. EPA cleared it for use last fall.
“Strains of this are found in soils around the world,” Tedford said, “but this BVT strain was selected from over 1,400 strains of the fungus found around the world by Dr. John Sutton at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
The strain is able to remain stable in temperate climates and its mode of action is designed to rapidly colonize plant tissues to out-compete pathogens.”
It’s also an endophyte, meaning it can live inside plant tissues, she said.
“Essentially the bees vector it to flower and it will grow between the cells and not damage them,” she said. “If there’s a pathogen that tries to come back and re-infect those sites, there’s already the beneficial fungus growing there.”
Also very interesting, Tedford said, “it will actually parasitize other pathogens.”
Tedford also showed slides to demonstrate how it’s worked in large scale experiments with blueberries, strawberries, almonds and other crops in Nova Scotia and throughout Canada, Minnesota, California and overseas in Turkey.
Advantages to BVT CR-7 is it’s a waterless application, no heavy machinery or high overhead is involved, and it has low toxicity, “so you don’t have to worry about non-target applications or drifting into sensitive areas. You can get higher yields with potentially better quality produce and fewer post-harvest losses.’
BVT rents or sells the systems to growers “so it works just like a pollination service, when you put your bees in, because once blooms are open, that’s when we start vectoring, and you would take it out when that bloom period is over.”
BVT’s services and products are not going to be more expensive than products many conventional farmers are already using, Tedford said, “and the growers we work with generally see between a 7 and 30 percent increase in yields, depending on the crop and the disease year of course.”
In closing, she told farmers, “there’s a real opportunity here for growers to reduce costs with other fungicide applications in favor of using this product.
It’s another solution for organic growers and it’s also a solution for conventional growers with concerns about residues they may be exporting.”