The Bee-Friendly Pesticide Alternative That Has Farmers Buzzing
By Marc Davis
If you want to stay healthy by eating right, there's a catch: It's getting more and more expensive.
For fruits and vegetables alone, price increases of 10 to 15 per cent per annum have become the new norm.
In which case, here's society's crucial challenge: Can these price escalations be curbed? And can it be done before these health-promoting foods become unaffordable for all too many of us?
Fortunately, meaningful cost containment -- which will ultimately benefit consumers -- is on the way, especially for organic produce. And it's thanks to a Canadian innovation called "vectoring."
How a Canadian Company is Creating a "Green" Buzz
A small Mississauga-based agri-tech company called Bee Vector Technologies (BVT) has created an environmentally friendly alternative to spraying crops with toxic pesticides.
It also provides farmers with meaningful cost savings, especially over the long-term -- savings that can be passed on to consumers.
In field trials, BVT (TSX.V: BEE) (OTCQB: BEVVF) is using commercially raised "worker" bumblebees as a precise means of inoculating flowering crops with organic, naturally occurring pesticides -- known as bio-controls.
In fact, vectoring is expected to capture significant market share for the safeguarding of North America's $65-billion annual output of fruits and vegetables, according to BVT's CEO Michael Collinson.
The biggest selling point of vectoring is that crops can be protected from diseases without the frequent use of toxic chemicals and large amounts of potable water to disperse those chemicals over farm fields.
This represents a desperately needed game-changer, Collinson says. And it's all because both of these cost inputs are ultimately unsustainable, especially for drought-stricken Californian farmers, he adds.
He offers an illustration of what he means: "Each acre that's used to grow strawberries requires about 300 pounds of synthetic pesticides in conventional farming. It becomes very costly and water-intensive."
He adds, "Worse still, disease pathogens build-up a tolerance to these chemicals over time. And so the pesticides lose their effectiveness, leading to poorer yields."
Not only that, but all too often they fail to find their intended targets when sprayed by crop dusters, or by other mechanical means.
Instead, most of what's dispersed into the air over farm fields ends up contaminating the soil and proximal waterways with toxic run-off. Over time, this degrades the quality of the soil, making it less fertile, i.e. less productive for farming.
Over two decades in the making, BVT's bee has another key advantage: Unlike many increasingly controversial synthetic pesticides, it doesn't inadvertently kill vast numbers of bees.
As an aside, one teaspoon of the pesticide clothianidin is enough to deliver a lethal dose to 1.25 billion honey bees, according to studies.
In fact, super-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides (neurotoxins) have been linked to mass die-offs of commercial honey bees (known as colony collapse disorder), as well as wild bumblebees.
Since 2010, about 35 per cent of Canada's honey bees have perished, according to the Canadian Honey Council.
More Organic Food = More Affordable
Vectoring is proving to be an especially cost-effective way of improving organic farming yields. It also improves the quality and shelf life of produce, Collinson says.
Significantly, its pending commercialization won't come a moment too soon. Supplies of organics are often stretched to the limit due to ever-increasing consumer demand.This has been exacerbated by the record drought in California, which is where much of the continent's organic produce is grown.
Not surprising, prices invariably trend higher when supplies can't keep up with demand.
What makes BVT so disruptive is that its commercially raised "worker" bumblebees are used to deliver organic crop controls directly to the targeted plants. And it's all done with perfect precision.
This is analogous to using armed drones to surgically destroy disease pathogens, versus using high-altitude bombs that are so imprecise that they cause serious collateral damage (think environmental harm).
The Cool Factor: How Vectoring Works
A specially designed tray (seen below) is inserted into the entrance of each hive containing a patented powder, which is the "vectorite." It has been designed to stick to the bees' legs as they exit the hive to pollinate flowering crops.
Depending on the crops being treated, any number of organic pesticides can be selected to be mixed in with the vectorite. Up to a dozen or so of the most common diseases that target produce can be combated this way.
Each time a bee lands on a flower, it unwittingly leaves behind the organic pesticide. And a hive of 300 bumblebees can provide natural, non-toxic disease protection to as many as 10 million flowers.
To date, BVT has had considerable success in using certain naturally occurring fungal spores, referred to as BVT-CR7, which is also a patented product. It fights the spread of a common blight that harms strawberries, known as botrytis, which causes a ruinous grey mould.
Readers will be happy to hear that neither the vectorite nor the disease-fighting bio-controls are detrimental to the bees' health. These natural, non-genetically-modified compounds are also harmless to other living organisms, including humans.
The Big Picture: Going Mainstream
It bears repeating that this agri-tech is ideal for helping organic farmers fight pests with the help of Mother Nature's pharmacology. But as a bonus, it can also boost harvests by up to a third, or more, Collinson says.
For now, BVT is focusing on commercially popular crops like berries, tomatoes, apples, almonds and sunflowers. But over time, up to six dozen additional flowering crops could be added to this list.
Yet the ability to administer bio-controls so effectively will eventually be adopted by non-organic, industrial-scale agribusinesses, Collinson says. They too stand to benefit from the cost savings and increased revenues.
This all offers BVT a very scalable business model in the near term that's tailor made for a burgeoning multi-billion dollar organic produce industry.
Within several years, BVT should be ready to help Big Agriculture balance the needs of maximizing output while also cultivating a more environmentally-conscious image. That' the big picture. And it's a win-win scenario for everyone, Collinson says.
It's also where early-stage investors should enjoy the stock market equivalent of a bumper harvest.