There are some clever almond farmers around north-west Victoria, Australia. 

Bees are essential to almond tree pollination for the production of nuts. The problem the almond farmers needed to solve was how to keep bees from leaving the orchards to forage on more enticing flowers and plants nearby.

The solution may be pheromones. One almond farmer is tricking bees into staying longer to get the job done by using Specialized Pheromone Lure Attractant Technique (SPLAT) from California. This is a paste-like chemical substance that is biodegradable vegetable wax and completely organic, so it harms neither bee nor tree.

In the flowering almond orchards near Robinvale lots of pheromones have been sprayed in the hopes of exciting the bees enough to stay put—literally to go nuts over nuts.

It was important to get the smell just right. Bees emit many different pheromones, according to Tony Filippi of Organic Crop Protectants. A common bee pheromone, nasonov, was used and it encouraged bees to let each other know they had found a superior food source.  

A machine is used to shoot the pink goo, with a doughy consistency, into the trunks of almond trees throughout the orchard. The machine is called “the splatagator.” Goo dries in a few hours and emits the pheromone for 4-6 weeks. It seduces insects for a variety of purposes. They can apply any substance they like to be carried by the waxy dollops that are shot into the tree. For instance, it can be a feeding attractant, or a repellent. And it can be to attract and kill pest insects.

There are various ways to apply the goo, but the splatagator is best for commercial orchards that are 10-12 kilometers long.

This unrelated 6:10-minute video by Maddie Moate discusses nasonov pheromone and shows how this man made version is used in the UK to lure bees:



For successful pollination, weather plays an important role. Bees won’t leave their hives if it is below 13C or 55F. This time of year can be cold and wet, and this interferes with bees foraging, but they do need to leave their hives and forage when the colony is in growth phase.

The bees seek both nectar and pollen. They use pollen to cap the brood or the eggs in their hexagonal cells. The nectar feeds them and is used to make honey.

Bee Innovative chief executive, David Lyall, is also an apiarist and he is involved in this project. He flies a drone across the almond trees, vigilantly monitoring bee activity. He is an Unmanned Aviation Vehicles (UAV) pilot. His organization has developed technology that can track bees to see where they are busy in the orchard. This gives farmers insight as to where pollination is great and where it is lacking.

Bee observation is done with a radar-like sensor called a ‘beedar’ and it is exciting because this is the first time that growers can track bees in real time to see where they are working. The radar emits a high energy signal that bounces back off the crop and the bees and other insects working the crops. The algorithm differentiates bees from other insects and objects in the orchard by size, flight pattern and density.

While some people may think this technology is invasive or manipulative, it was designed to protect bees from their enemies—varroa destructor mites.  

Bees all over the world are under threat from this 'blight mite.' Incredibly, Australia is the last country on earth that doesn’t have any varroa destructor mites. The initial package was developed to keep varroa out of Australia. 

CSIRO support made it possible to uncouple the Beedar sensor from that biosecurity package and now it can be used to help with commercial pollination.

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