For blueberry growers, higher pollination would imply higher yields.
However the know-how the trade depends on – honey bees – is centuries outdated and has seen little innovation.
“It is one of the archaic elements of our agriculture,” mentioned Matt Hoffman, Driscoll’s pollination and plant well being analysis and improvement chief. “However there are some firms which are doing attention-grabbing issues.”
A few of these new applied sciences have been on show throughout a discipline day in late Might at a Burlington, Wash., farm that was house to the BerrySmart Discipline Undertaking, an effort supported by the US Highbush Blueberry Council to check rising applied sciences. in blueberries.
“The objective was to teach growers about our pollination analysis and showcase among the applied sciences that have been being explored for pollination,” mentioned Lisa Wasko DeVetter, an affiliate professor at Washington State College. “We now have been involved in enhancing pollination for a very long time.”
Whereas hive well being points have raised issues for a lot of bee-dependent crops in recent times, blueberries are particularly in danger. Wasko DeVetter mentioned that growers in western Washington have discovered that honey bees don’t carry out persistently within the area’s environmental situations and that blueberry flowers usually are not effectively tailored to honey bees by way of flower form and vitamin. . Some beekeepers discover that honey bee well being could be affected in blueberry manufacturing methods.
A number of the applied sciences on show on the discipline day centered on enhancing hive well being, whereas one firm provided a mechanical pollination choice.
BloomX, a California-based agtech firm, designed its Robee to vibrate blueberry blossoms and set off the discharge of pollen.
“Blueberries have excellent flowers, so all we’ve to do is transfer the pollen to a really localized space inside the flower,” Hoffman mentioned. Driscolls’ preliminary assessments with the know-how, which is predicated on the vibration of a bumblebee, a profitable blueberry pollinator, “appears good.”
WSU additionally started preliminary testing with Robee this yr, and up to now, it appears to successfully set off the discharge of pollen.
“My garments can be lined in pollen,” Wasko DeVetter mentioned. “However the launch of pollen does not imply it will land on a stigmatic floor.”
Extra knowledge assortment is required to see how Robee use impacts yield and fruit high quality, he mentioned.
In its first era, the robotic bee appears like a lawnmower and requires an analogous push, however the imaginative and prescient is for it to be automated sooner or later. Driving the prototype requires about 1.5 hours per acre, Hoffman mentioned.
“From what I’ve noticed, there’s loads of room in our berry crops to enhance pollination,” Hoffman mentioned. “Any time you enhance pollination companies, by giving bees extra vitality or with synthetic know-how, yields go up.”
At BerrySmart websites, imaging know-how provides a brand new technique to consider pollination know-how trials. As a substitute of sending college students or technicians to rely flowers or berries on a pattern of shrubs, Steve Mantle makes use of Inexperienced Atlas imaging know-how to scan every row.
“We use it to gather counts for buds, flowers, inexperienced berries and pre-harvest phases,” mentioned Mantle, proprietor of agricultural knowledge firm innov8.ag and coordinator of the BerrySmart challenge. “The flexibility to trace this knowledge simply wasn’t there earlier than.”
This yr, he mounted the digicam system on Burro’s autonomous rover. That provides many benefits over the ATV-mounted strategy he used in recent times.
“It is extremely helpful to enter and purchase knowledge whatever the re-entry restriction. And we will get into ranks which you could’t get into with equipment because the season goes on,” Mantle mentioned. “We have been very impressed.”
The Donkey navigates utilizing its digicam methods and must be educated to know its surroundings earlier than it will probably function independently, he mentioned. Younger, dormant bushes look very completely different from mature plantings with a full cover, so it took him a bit of coaching time. However now, Mantle mentioned, “we will sit in a pleasant air-conditioned truck whereas he does his job for a few hours.”
It’s utilizing Burro and Inexperienced Atlas applied sciences to trace crop load and vigor in any respect three BerrySmart websites: the conventionally grown Burlington farm, an natural farm in Burbank in south central Washington, and a traditional website in Salem, Oregon.
bee well being
The sphere day additionally featured BeeHome, developed by Israel-based BeeWise. Billed as a sensible hive that automates fundamental beekeeping duties with sensors and robotic arms, the solar-powered home homes 24 colonies.
“We actually give attention to the beekeepers” and serving to them enhance hive survival and productiveness, co-founder Eliyah Radzyner mentioned on the discipline day.
That is the corporate’s first yr of labor on blueberry manufacturing methods, he mentioned, and they’re desirous to find out how the know-how may assist growers and beekeepers.
“BeeHomes are used for migratory beekeeping, shifting from crop to crop as completely different pollination seasons start, and could be trucked similar to picket hives,” mentioned Tai Nicolopoulos, BeeWise’s vice chairman of selling. . The system makes use of warmth remedy chambers to regulate varroa mite stress, he mentioned.
WSU and the BerrySmart challenge have but to check BeeWise.
In 2021 and 2022, Wasko DeVetter’s analysis staff ran a trial with a distinct firm, Beeflow, whose objective is to “practice bees with floral scents so that they’re extra inclined to feed on these hard-to-pollinate crops,” he mentioned.
He discovered that that strategy resulted in increased berry weights for the Duke and Liberty cultivars, though his staff solely noticed increased numbers of honey bee visits on Liberty. Though “promising,” he believes an financial evaluation is required to see if the know-how would enhance grower earnings.
At this level, it’s an open query how these instruments may match into long-standing relationships between beekeepers and their grower purchasers.
“If any of those applied sciences can put much less stress on the bees and result in more healthy hives, that is good for the beekeeper and the producer,” Mantle mentioned.
For extra data on the BerrySmart challenge, go to: ushbc.blueberry.org/for-growers/berrysmart.
—by Kate Prengaman