What did you have for breakfast today? Stop and think about it – most likely you couldn’t have eaten what you did without the humble honey bee (or its close cousin, the bumble bee) as one-third of the food we eat – think avocados, nuts, and berries – grows thanks to pollination by bees. From apples to almonds to alfalfa grown for cattle feed, every year crops valued at $20 billion depend on bees, which also produce $150 million in honey on an annual basis.
So as the world celebrates World Bee Day today on May 20, we thought we’d give some appreciation to these master carpenters and providers of sustenance – of which there are 20,000 different species in the world – by recognizing some of the ingenious ag tools that have been developed. These innovations not only help these incredible insects survive, but in many cases they allow these pollinators to take a rest and thrive, all while opening the door to tremendous investment opportunities.
But first a few facts:
– In 2019, there were just over 90 million managed beehives in the world. India has the most with about 12.25 million, followed by China with about 9 million, and Turkey with 7.7 million.
– Scientists have determined that bumble bees are on their way to extinction due to “climate chaos” and threats from disease, pests, and hive problems.
– Colonies are decreasing yearly, and in fact, in 2019 U.S. beekeepers lost 40 percent of their colonies, the highest national (some losses were much higher) winter losses ever recorded.
– Bees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey.
– One bee has to fly about 90,000 miles – three times around the globe – to make one pound of honey.
– The average bee will make only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
– A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour.
– Bees communicate by dancing.
Dozens of startups and innovative agtech companies have made their mark in the fight for our proud pollinators, many of which have been featured in GAI News.
Founded by preeminent researchers, including CEO Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, ApisProtect (Apis is the Latin word for “bee”) uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor honeybee colonies via real-time hive monitoring powered by satellite-enabled sensors that are retrofitted to existing beehives. This Irish agtech innovator used its $1.8 million seed round in 2018, co-led by top-tier venture capital investors Finistere Ventures and Atlantic Bridge Capital, and including Radicle Growth, the Yield Lab, and Enterprise Ireland, to move forward with aggressive global deployment of its innovation.
In December 2020, they launched their bee monitoring technology in the U.S. with their most recent install with TJ Honey in Oklahoma. ApisProtect also has launched a hobbyist version of this technology in Ireland, with a rollout in additional European countries planned for later this year. This means that their technology has already monitored more than 100 million honey bees across three continents. Based on monitoring these nearly 450 hives, the company has over 15 million data sets.
“We have installed our monitors in locations across the world. It has been fascinating to meet and learn from beekeepers and observe the differences between the subspecies of honey bees in different states and continents,” said Pádraig Whelan PhD, chief science officer, ApisProtect. “What sets ApisProtect apart is that we do not share data with any other parties in the beekeeping value chain – all the value we create goes directly to the beekeepers.”
In March of this year, ApisProtect and CEO Dr. Edwards Murphy were featured in the BBC World News documentary Follow the Food, which highlights the importance of using new technology in food production. As Dr. Edwards Murphy noted in the interview, “Our science-based honey bee monitoring technology empowers beekeepers to manage their apiaries more efficiently, reduce labor and transport costs, and focus on cultivating larger and stronger colonies. Using ApisProtect, beekeepers can generate an additional $98 of value from each hive per year.” She also illustrated the extent of the need for bees, noting that in California – where the almond industry has 1.5 million acres of almonds and produces approximately 80 percent of the almonds in the world – two beehives are required to pollinate each acre so for the almond pollination season, over three million hives are needed.
The low-cost technology solution that ApisProtect provides allows beekeepers to double their gross margin per hive and reduce transportation costs by up to 25 percent. To-date, ApisProtect has raised over $3.6 million, with more expected fundraises in the future as it continues to test and develop its machine learning algorithms to improve accuracy and reliability.
Based in Israel and California and founded by Omer Davidi, a tech entrepreneur, and Itai Kanot, a second-generation commercial beekeeper, BeeHero was launched to answer a single question: Can technology help solve the problems bees face? With a focus on pollination, the company has developed in-hive sensors to monitor and collect data about the environment, pollination performance, and hive health.
To combat the lack of broadband coverage in rural areas, BeeHero works with Internet of Things (IoT) provider Soracom, a cellular connectivity provider that specializes in IoT and provides coverage across multiple networks and bands.
Bee Vectoring Technology
Out of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, is Bee Vectoring Technologies, which provides a patented bee vectoring technology that uses commercially-reared bees to deliver targeted crop controls through the natural process of pollination.
Poised to be a market disruptor in the global $240 billion crop protection and fertilizer market, Bee Vectoring’s natural precision agriculture system replaces chemical pesticides and plant protection product spray applications, and is noted to provide improved crop protection and yield results.
The company is gaining momentum with crops such as blueberries, strawberries, apples, and more, and in fact, the company’s invoices for the first three months of 2021 represented 18 percent more invoicing than its entire fiscal year for 2020.
Born out of an Indiana-based Beekeeping Club at the University of Indiana, BeeCorp, founded in 2016 by Ellie Symes and Wyatt Wells, was on a mission to prevent hive loss. In 2019, the company shifted its focus from preventing hive loss to determining hive strength with the launch of its Verifli product, which uses infrared technology to analyze the strength of hives. Five years later, and after securing more than $1 million in August 2020 from Elevate Ventures, IU Ventures, and THRIVE, the young entrepreneurs now employ eight full-time staff and nine interns.
Wells told Inside Indiana Business that the company has received a lot of interest from crop growers who rent bees for pollination, which spells much promise for growth. “A big shift for us over the next couple of years is going to be delivering Verifli to a wide variety of crop pollination events throughout the year. So, it won’t just be us with almond growers out in California; it’ll be berries and all these other things that get pollinated by bees in all kinds of states across the nation. So, that’s a pretty exciting thing for us,” said Wells.
In the spotlight for taking the hard work of honey-making off of bees is MeliBio, a California-based start-up making real honey without bees, which just last month closed US$850,000 in a pre-seed funding round, edging it closer to having its first product on the market, slated for late 2021.
Founded in 2020 by Aaron Schaller, Ph.D. and Darko Mandich, MelioBio seeks to claim its piece of the global honey industry – valued at US$9 billion in 2020 – with its development of a proprietary technology based on synthetic biology, precision fermentation, and plant science that replaces honeybees as a medium for honey production.
MeliBio is part of the brand portfolio of Big Idea Ventures and has lined-up 15 food and beverage companies that are committed to using the lab-produced honey.
Said Mandich in a November 2020 interview with Xtalks, “MeliBio is bringing the true story of the bees to the people because they are very important to us. There are 20,000 bee species other than honeybees, and they will never go extinct as long as we have beekeepers that keep the honeybees to multiply. The problem is with wild and native bee species that are dying, and they are dying because of huge pressures from the honey production industry and honeybees.”