Bees are pretty remarkable creatures (once you get past all that stinging). They pollinate crops, make delicious honey, and if a Toronto-based agtech company has its way, bees will be used to apply pesticides to crops to help ward off disease and increase yields.
The appropriately named Bee Vectoring Technology (BVT) works with commercial beehive operators hired by farms to pollinate crops. BVT installs a dispenser in the hives that holds a patented, all natural and organic fungicide in powder form. As the bees exit the hive, they walk through the powder and carry it to the crops. When the bees land and shake to release pollen from the plant, the fungicide is dropped into the flower where it acts a preventative measure against certain pests.
“It is a biological agent delivering a biological agent,” said Ashish Malik, President and CEO of BVT in a phone interview.
The method isn’t a cure-all, and won’t prevent every type of crop disease.”This is a solution that is best suited for diseases that affect crops through the flower,” said Malik. Right now BVT works with bumblebees to deliver a biopesticide that prevents botrytis, a fungal infection, from growing in strawberries. According to Malik, it takes approximately a hive and half of bumblebees (roughly 200 insects at the hive’s peak) to work an acre of strawberries.
The benefit of the bee delivery system, Malik says, is that farmers can increase their crop yield while minimizing waste. By using bees to apply the biopesticide, farmers don’t have to take a shotgun approach, spraying chemicals across their entire field. Additionally, BVT’s fungicide is naturally derived and needs no water for its application. And according to Malik, the good news for the bees is that the biopesticide BVT developed does not harm the insects or impact their honey.
BVT is currently piloting a program at a strawberry farm in Florida, and has run tests in other parts of the world. It is in the R&D phase to expand their work into protection for other types of berries, and treatment from other types of pests. The company is going through the regulatory process to get approval for its patented biopesticide, which Malik says should happen in six months.
Founded in 2012 BVT is currently “pre-revenue,” which is something you hear quite a bit when covering startups. But what you don’t hear as often is that the company already went public in 2015. BVT is listed on the Toronto stock exchange. It’s not like the company has a huge burn rate, as it has less than 10 people working at the company. When it does start generating revenue, BVT will use a service model where they will charge a fixed amount per acre of land for the whole season, and Malik said it will be priced competitively to the chemical programs currently being used.
BVT’s animalistic, earth-friendly approach to pesticide application reminds me of BioFiltro, which uses thousands of worms to filter wastewater on farms. And it seems like there’s some kind of partnership opportunity with Nectar, which helps beekeepers better manage their hives (you know, because bee populations are dying off).
Perhaps BVT can generate enough buzz to build its business, and maybe its business can save some bees.