Bees are the unsung hero of the agricultural industry, they pollinate the planet and power our food ecosystem. But bees have been dying in record numbers for years. So, we wanted to develop a data-driven tool that could measure the impact of bee-friendly orchards on the overall welfare of bees.
Until now, there has been no easy way to track the health outcomes of colonies used during pollination season. By analyzing hive data derived from all of BeeHero’s monitored colonies, and in consultation with experts from the pollination community, BeeHero has developed a scientific model that can do this, one that will bring value to all industry stakeholders.
Following the 2023 almond pollination season, (which lasts from mid-February through mid-March,) BeeHero will now provide all of its growers with a personalized bee health report and a certificate of their commitment to bee welfare, on an annual basis.
Based on a combination of data, drawn from thousands of monitored hives, and additional academic research, the BeeHero Healthy Hive Index provides growers with an accurate assessment of the health of the hives that were placed in their orchards for pollination.
The key parameters are:-
- Colony Size: Measured as the growth in the number of populated frames of bees during pollination. A thriving worker population is critical to ensure sufficient bees to perform all tasks of the colony.
- Brood Health: Healthy brood ensures the colony’s future. Measured as the number of brood frames and overall health/condition of the brood.
- Queen Presence: The queen has sole responsibility for reproducing and keeping the population up. Thus a state of “queenlessness” is dangerous for a hive.
These three metrics are normalized for weather (which can impact the timing of almond bloom and foraging behavior) with recorded bee flight hours.
The Healthy Hive Index effectively adds a new dimension to bee welfare by leveraging IoT technology and our vast knowledge base to promote data-driven best practices for Bee-friendly orchards.
With the Healthy Hive index:
→Growers receive recognition for their efforts to provide bee-friendly environments.
→Beekeepers can see that their bees stayed healthy during pollination.
→ Processors are better able to answer questions from other supply chain stakeholders, whose purchasing decisions may be influenced by bee welfare.
This new assessment model, developed in consultation with experts from the pollination community will also be a valuable tool for our academic, commercial, and agricultural partners, who all share our concern for bee welfare.
Humanity relies mostly on managed bees to pollinate our food. In fact, about 75% of the world's food crops rely on insect pollination, the most important of which are bees. Also, most pollinator-dependent crops are high-nutrition foods, critically important for healthy diets, such as nuts, fruits, seeds and vegetables, and they account for $18B in value every year. However, nearly 40% of all U.S. colonies were lost between 2021-2022.
Standing at the intersection of growers, beekeepers, academics, and bee welfare advocates, this new measuring system gives all stakeholders tools to not only rally around a shared cause, but to also use the data provided by our tool for their own activities.
George Clouston, a member of BeeHero’s research team explains that, “A group of us at BeeHero came together from different parts of the company; from the grower and beekeeping side, the research and data team, entomology and marketing — it was that collective knowledge that enabled us to come up with the index. We began by examining data from what has been BeeHero’s main area of activity up until now: almond pollination. Two and a half million hives are brought to California and go to work in almond orchards every year. So creating a tool to serve the almond industry, that could evaluate the health and strength of colonies during pollination, would offer valuable insights to our growers."
To develop an effective tool like this there were many questions that would need answering: What was the status of the bees when they arrived for pollination, and has it improved or declined? Has the pollination process been beneficial to the colony or not? And how can we show how the bees have fared from a health perspective over that time period?
We started by reviewing existing research and other methods and metrics used to assess colony health. There were also two key criteria that the new indexing system needed to meet; that the data could in theory also be collected through traditional hive inspections, (so the index is not proprietary to BeeHero) and that our version would be practical and scalable for large numbers of hives. And that the final index that we present to our growers accurately represents the difference in the health and strength of the colonies from the beginning of pollination until the end.
While there has been increasing public concern about the plight of the bees, this is not usually framed in welfare terms, probably because it is harder to define what welfare could be for them. The debate is focused on specific aspects of colony health or threats such as habitat loss, disease, or pesticides. However, commercially kept bees are considered livestock by the US Department of Agriculture because of their vital role in food production. Beekeepers manage their feeding, breeding, movement, and treatment for pests and diseases, just as farmers do for other livestock. Obviously, bees are more difficult to monitor, because of the nature of their colonies. With 50,000 to 80,000 bees in a colony, and many beekeepers managing thousands of colonies the ability to gather data remotely via our in-hive sensors was key to the success of the project.
Ultimately, the Healthy Hive Index can be a valuable tool for any grower of bee- pollinated crops. So, whether it's almonds, avocados, apples, or blueberries, this index will apply, given that there are differences in the life cycle of the colony, depending on season and location. The key metrics are still the same, but the relative performance of the hives will be different.
At BeeHero, our aim is to leverage the power of technology to get a more complete understanding of bees and pollination. And because our technology enables remote data acquisition it’s easy to see, how going forward, the BeeHero Healthy Hive Index can be used to benchmark hive health during pollination year-over-year.
By building a strategic coalition with beekeepers, growers, processors, and manufacturers, we hope to make this groundbreaking approach standard practice throughout the industry.