Protecting our Pollinators with the Power of Location
Within the DEMETER project, one pilot is concerned with - and for - the smallest of all commercial livestock: the honeybee. Bees aren’t the first animal that springs to mind when one thinks about livestock and farming. Yet for such tiny creatures, they have a huge impact on sustainable and economical agriculture.
That bees matter is probably common knowledge these days. As is the fact that bees, like too many other insects, are under threat from humanity’s impact on their environment. What may be less known is the true extent of their benefits: I recently talked to an old rapeseed farmer in the neighbourhood, where some of my neighbour’s hives were located. He didn’t have a problem with us putting the hives in the field, yet he also didn’t realize the direct positive impact on his yield. When I told him that there’s about a 20% yield increase compared to fields without hives, his reply was simple: “Well, you should be putting more hives in!”
Pollinators safeguard our food supplies
According to some publications, the honey bee is, in economic terms, the third most important livestock (after cattle and pigs). Bees play a key role in improving the profitability of many crops. Studies on the importance of pollinators on crops that are directly consumed by humans show that three out of four crops depend, at least in part, on pollinators. Yields of some fruit, seed, and nut crops will decrease by more than 90% without these pollinators. In its publication Why Bees Matter, the UN FAO rated pollination as the highest contributor to agriculture yields worldwide, contributing far beyond any other management practice, such as applying fertiliser or plant treatments.
Making Location Count
There’s a clear win-win in linking the pollination requirements of farmers with the beekeepers’ desire for honey. This being an OGC blog, there are of course a number of key aspects where location counts, as well as linking and sharing data:
- From the beekeeper’s perspective, location data can answer some basic questions: “How are the colonies doing today?” is part of every beekeeping day, as is “Where are fields with suitable flowering crops for my bees?” When flowering starts and ends is easy enough to spot if the field is next door, but when it is further away, in-situ data might help to schedule hive inspection or relocation trips.
- For the bee-friendly farmer, knowing where hives are located can be useful when scheduling plant treatments and determining if they should let the beekeeper (me) know about their plans. A well-meant dose of pesticide next to a hive is all too often the end of a colony, not out of bad intent, but a simple lack of awareness about what is going on in the field next door.
- Collecting hive health information from various places and regions can also help scientists better understand the ecological health status of the environment in which our agriculture takes place.
Helping to make this data findable, accessible, interoperable, and re-usable is part of OGC’s mission.
Improving Pollination Services
The DEMETER project is investigating ways to link Farm Management Systems with Apiary Management Systems to build a bridge between beekeepers and farmers. The first step is to support simple alert triggers about the presence of bee hives in the vicinity of a field and about planned plant treatments in the vicinity of hives. A service to inform farmers about pollination requirements for their chosen crop, i.e. how many hives are ideal per individual field, are planned as well. Last, but not least, IoT sensors are used to monitor the hives without stressing the bees. Since beekeeping in Europe is mostly carried out by a large number of private persons with only a couple of hives, the most important aspect is to offer open and affordable solutions that even small beekeepers can take advantage of.
For more information on OGC’s activities addressing agriculture topics, visit the CYBELE and DEMETER OGC project pages, join the Agriculture Domain Working Group, subscribe to the OGC Newsletter, or follow OGC (and me) on Twitter.