Bee buzzes critical to calculating crop pollination

Farmers may soon have a better idea on how well their crops are being pollinated, thanks to new research into the buzzes of bees.

In 2014 and 2015, researchers in Missouri were monitoring bee noises in the Colorado Rocky Mountains by using small microphones called acoustic listening systems.

In findings published last June, they found that if the acoustic systems were picking up more bees buzzing, the bees were doing a lot more pollinating.

“It’s not rocket science, but it is informative,” said Nicole Miller-Struttmann, who was part of the research team and currently teaches at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

“The more bees there are, the better the pollination services.”

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Knowing this buzzing activity would be extremely helpful for farmers, she said, because many rely on bees or other pollinators to grow successful crops.

For instance, if buzzes are low, farmers would know they need to bring in more honey bees. If buzzes are high, they might not need to bring in any.

“If wild populations are doing enough pollinating, farmers might not need to spend lots of money and time,” Miller-Struttmann explained. “On the flip side, it can be an early warning signal, where they can take action and bring in more bees if they need to.”

So, to get this technology in the hands of farmers, the research team plans to develop an app that would work in conjunction with acoustic listening systems, which would be available for purchase.

“These microphones are a pretty inexpensive way to track these bees,” Miller-Struttmann said, “and therefore they help farmers with how they manage their farm.”

Kevin Serfas, a director with the Alberta Canola Producers who farms near Turin, Alta., said this technology would be particularly helpful for canola seed producers who buy pollinating services from beekeepers.

‘If you’re able to tell what the activity is like on the field, you’ll be able to be more efficient,” he said. “If one field needs more bees, while the other has more than enough, you would be able to shift them around.”

Jake Berg, a beekeeper and vice-president of the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission, also thought the technology would be useful.

“The more information the producer has, whether it’s for wild bees or imported ones, would be great,” he said.

Miller-Struttmann added the technology could help build relationships between farmers and conservation workers.

“There’s a lot of ways we can support native and local bee populations,” she said. “So, a little bit can go a long way in terms of things like planting hedgerows. If people could see the numbers in their own fields that would be really meaningful.”

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