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

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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
No public attendance for Kelowna council meetings, public hearings

The new measures come as part of the new provincial order, released on Dec. 3

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Former Kelowna social worker arrested for allegedly stealing from foster children

Robert Riley Saunders was arrested in Alberta and will be brought back to B.C. to face charges

Townhouse proposals by Westcorp to the City of Kelowna, up for consideration Monday, Dec. 7. (City of Kelowna/Westcorp)
Kelowna council to decide on Westcorp development permit for Hiawatha RV Park

City of Kelowna council will consider Monday whether to issue a development permit for the project

Two Kelowna flights have been flagged as having COVID-19 cases on board. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 cases on several Kelowna flights

The flights were on Nov. 19, 22, 24 and 27, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control

This microscope image made available by the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research in 2015 shows human colon cancer cells with the nuclei stained red. On Friday, May 29, 2020, doctors are reporting success with newer drugs that control certain types of cancer better, reduce the risk it will come back and make treatment simpler and easier to bear. (NCI Center for Cancer Research via AP)
Vernon families give $200,000 towards cancer care in Kelowna

First ever chair in brachytherapy supported by Popowich and Bannister families

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither are we’

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty ventilators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of paymens for household incomes up to $175,000

Numerous businesses, including the Roxie movie theater, have closed to try and stop spread of COVID-19. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke COVID-19 cases tick slowly up to 49

An increase of only three cases since Nov. 30

KIJHL games have been postponed through Dec. 31. (File photo)
KIJHL postpones all games through end of 2020

Due to provincial health orders, games up to Dec. 31 have been pushed back

The Grinch was stolen Wednesday and returned sometime in the night on Friday. (Hughes photo - Facebook)
The Grinch has been returned to Penticton home

“I guess someone’s heart grew three times that night” says April Hughes

An Armstrong resident shared video of a beaver gnawing away on a stick to Facebook Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Robyn Civic Adnoh photo)
WATCH: Beaver gnaws away in Armstrong wetlands

A resident captured video of a beaver chewing happily in a local creek Friday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s Vote Vernon initiative, presented by VantageOne Credit Union, calls on residents to shop local this Christmas season. (Black Press file)
Small businesses hurt by federal COVID-19 response: North Okanagan-Shuswap MP

Mel Arnold calls for more accessible programming for businesses; supports local holiday shopping

Most Read