Matias Viel is the 26-year old Argentinean CEO of the new biotech start-up, Beeflow. They are developing stronger and smarter bees. Feeding bees with their nutrient-dense formula technologies improves the immune systems of bees and helps make them capable of pollinating and flying up to seven times more flights than usual in cold weather. The plant-based formula contains proprietary ingredients with sugar and water, and beekeepers need only feed it to their bees once weekly.
Beeflow feeds bees organic molecule compounds that are specific to a crop, like almonds, kiwis, blueberries or cherries. The bee memorizes that essential flavor as its memory is conditioned to the taste, and goes looking for it. This helps a bee transport more pollen. Even more important, it strengthens the bee’s immune system so she can work through any number of conditions that normally get her down. It keeps her stronger and with a longer lifespan than a conventional bee.
The following 1:40-minute long CNN video gives great insight into what Beeflow is accomplishing, including blueberries on an Oregon farm that grew 22% bigger.
This is an exciting, very smart and laser targeted approach to creating super bees and super crops. Up to now, if you slice open one big apple you will see big seeds, and a smaller apple = smaller seeds = less pollination. These sizes are due to the amount of pollen that was deposited by bees to pollinate the flower. Beeflow technology guarantees that bees will optimize individual crop pollination, resulting in bigger yields and much juicier, healthier and usually bigger fruit.
In the beginning it can be hard to get beekeepers and farmers on board, because this is a new data-rich approach borne from visionary technology and research. But once they see stronger bees and the higher crop yield results at the end of a season, their confidence grows, and firm relationships are forged.
It takes a whole season of waiting for the harvesting to measure the results and collect the data, so the length of time depends on the type of crop and season it is. So far, according to Matias, they have produced up to 90% increase in yields.
Some crops are not attractive to bees because some flowers do not have nectar but they still depend on bees to pollinate their seeds. If a farmer puts bees into blueberry fields but his neighbor has orange trees, the bees may go there instead. After 15 years of Argentine research, we see that bees can memorize things like their interaction with flowers.
In the last century beekeeping hasn’t changed much. Farmers have also managed pollination needs historically the same way for ages. Bees are rented out to pollinate vast fields of crops at the times of year when they are flowering. They are put out in the field and everyone hopes for the best. They don’t measure anything about pollination efficiency or the variables affecting bee behavior to see if bees are behaving as needed. For instance, bees get distracted by their memories, and by wild clover or flowers on neighboring farms. All this will impact the pollination job outcome. Do they even like the flowers?
There is a vast sea of new data, research and technology available, but so far it hasn’t been implemented in a way that can make pollination more efficient or bees stronger. Researchers dedicated to studying bee brains say that neurons in the bees’ antennae can tell the bee when the antenna touches flowers if they have touched food or not.
Beeflow measures all this and is training bee brains much like Pavlov’s dogs, by feeding the bees specific compounds that are targeted to each crop. This way, the bee memorizes that resource and will search for it. They also make bee immune systems stronger so they can work in cooler temperatures.
Matias wanted to start a company that would have a meaningful impact on the world, and it looks like he is doing just that with Beeflow. Following many discussions with bio science researchers, his goal is to commercialize the huge depth of knowledge and research that has been done over time and bring it to market for the benefit of the bees, beekeepers, farmers and consumers. He sees huge expansion opportunity in the pollination sector.
There has been plenty of innovation in farming practices but not so much for the bees, even though there is a lot of concern for their plight and the risks they face from colony collapse disorder, mites, viruses and dangerous pesticides. He sees many of the hazards that bees are subjected to as being avoidable.
Up to now, Beeflow partnered with beekeepers since they have not had their own apiaries, but acquiring some will be one of their next steps. They have a cooperation with one beekeeper in California.
They plan to develop a lot of sensors and hardware in thenext cycle. Matias is fascinated by how much difference researchers can make in the future of the world. Beeflow is building the biggest scientific knowledge base in the world on bees and their interactions with specific flowers and crops.
Having recently received a $3 million investment, Beeflow is expanding into California, where about 80% of the world’s almonds are produced. The 1.3 million + acres of Californian almond crop relies heavily on bee pollination and the pollination window is only a few short weeks in late February and early March when the trees blossom. If it is cold, the bees don’t perform well. This sounds like a perfect place for Beeflow to experiment, hone and refine their services.
Matias gets out in the field regularly to observe bees and collect data, and he has never been stung by a bee yet.
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