Groundbreaking ‘bee vectoring’ technology, where plant protection products (PPP) are applied directly to crops using live bees, could be on its way to Europe.
Recently approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the product Vectorite contains the organic fungicide clonostachys rosea CR-7 (CR-7) and can be used on commercial food crops to protect them against necrotrophic* diseases including botrytis, sclerotinia and monilinia.
Ashish Malik, CEO of the Canadian company, Bee Vectoring Technologies (BVT), who created the product says: “The idea behind using bees as delivery agents for plant protection products originally came from a couple of scientists at the University of Guelph in Canada.
"Bee vectoring is a very efficient way to deliver a PPP to help manage diseases and pests that affect a crop in or around the flower. Application is very targeted, and you need a lot less of the PPP compared to a traditional spray application when only a small percentage of the product actually gets to the flower.”
Vectorite is applied in powder form when the bees leave the hive.
It is currently registered for berry crops, tomatoes, sunflowers and almonds, and Mr Malik says the company plans to look into its use for sclerotinia control in canola (oilseed rape).
Treated honeybee hives are rented by growers from beekeepers for the flowering period of the crop for pollination purposes.
At the end of flowering, the beekeeper collects the hives and moves onto the next crop or houses them overwinter.
For bumblebees, growers buy the hives which typically last eight-10 weeks.
Mr Malik adds: “The bees forage every day during the bloom period, and so the PPP is delivered in small amounts every day, as opposed to a spray application when a PPP would be delivered only on the day of the spray, so you have ‘spikes’ as opposed to a steadier delivery.”
Vectorite has proven harmless to bees, animals and humans; uses no water or harmful chemicals; and helps to manage fungicide resistance, says Mr Malik.
“Being a biopesticide, CR7 has a complex and physical mode of action that makes it hard for a pathogen to build resistance against it. So CR7 is a useful tool to extend the life of other modes of action when used in rotation or in combination with other classes of fungicides.”
Strawberry and blueberry growers in the Southeastern US have been using Vectorite on a test basis for several years.
It has been tested on strawberry and tomato crops in Europe and BVT expects approval in Switzerland within the next year.
Mr Malik says the system is priced to be competitive with a conventional season-long spray programme.
Bee vectoring is where managed beehives are used to deliver plant protection products to crops.
Bees walk across a dispenser which contains the plant protection product in powder form. The powder sticks to the lower bodies of the bees as they leave the hive and fly to the flower.
Bee vectoring can be used on any flowering crops that are susceptible to attack from a necrotrophic pathogen (*diseases that live off dead plant tissue).