A Northern English biodiversity tech start-up company, AgriSound, has won European funding for a research and development project set to change the pollination of commercial crops to harness the power of mason bees, claiming they will exist sustainably in the wider ecosystem.
In its first international partnership, the cash injection from Eurostars, part of the European Partnership on Innovative SMEs, will see York-based AgriSound working with Swiss sustainable pollination specialists Wildbiene + Partner AG, to harness the mason bees as an alternative to honeybees within orchards.
AgriSound and Wildbiene will each use their funding in the development of commercially deployable mason bee habitats incorporating bio acoustic listening devices. With origins in AgriSound’s POLLYTM, pollinator listening device, the new technology will focus on the mason bee population, as opposed to the long-established pollinator choices of bumble bees or honey bees.
The company claim that a single mason bee has been shown to perform a similar level of pollination when compared to 200 honeybees and due to their solitary lifestyles, they are less susceptible to common diseases which affect beehive colonies.
Until now, Mason bees have been widely under-utilised as commercial pollinators because of the lack of professional management practices appropriate for these high-maintenance bees. While honeybees are effective pollinators, this is due to very high numbers of bees existing within a hive and these bees can compete for local food sources from native bees and are increasingly viewed as unsustainable in some parts of the world.
By conducting trials with Wildbiene, who work to manage mason bees and provide respective habitats, AgriSound is on the verge of a completely new way of caring for mason bees as the future of pollination, with pollinators like bees being crucial to three out of four crops producing fruit or seeds for human use around the world.
The new device developed through the companies’ partnership will allow food producers and farmers to use mason bees to increase crop yields. This is because they will be able to better understand, control and sustain these prolific pollinators as the device will not only detect where the mason bees are by listening out for their distinctive sounds, but also ascertain their health and wellbeing.
Casey Woodward, founder and CEO of AgriSound said: “We’re thrilled to have secured such supportive European funding towards our exciting new technological project to use mason bees as incredibly powerful agricultural pollinators.
“Enabling use of this type of bee in commercial spaces could be a game-changer for crop yielding worldwide, and by securing our first international partnership with Wildbiene we expect to begin trialling the new device in 2024-2025. Wildbiene’s enthusiasm about the mason bees inspires us to understand and care for them together.”
By detecting the density and nature of buzzing sounds of the mason bees in the area around the new device, the farmer or food producer will be able to view on an app or desktop application, analytical data identifying which areas of land may be lacking in mason bees, or where the mason bees there are not thriving. Following on from the success of AgriSound’s POLLY pollinator listening device, this new sophisticated mason bee habit embedded device will even detect how happy the bees are to be in their relevant areas and be able to tell when they are chewing out of their cocoons.
Tom Strobl, founder of Wildbiene said: “Mason bees will become an increasingly important natural resource to improve fruit yield and quality. We’re fascinated using our highly efficient pollinators and AgTech in tandem to offer an integrated livestock system. Orchard-monitoring becomes key during the short pollination windows and increasingly adverse conditions.”
Casey Woodward added: “This venture will bring AgriSound into new markets, develop new understanding of mason bees and harness huge benefits for crop yield enhancement. Our project will help to improve farm sustainability and resilience in these difficult times and give us the potential to maintain and care for mason bees in a way that hasn’t been reliably done on a commercial scale before. We couldn’t be more excited to develop this technology which will be the first of its kind in mason bee care and pollination.”