Meet The Tiniest Crop Duster

To keep harmful pathogens, molds, and fungi at bay, farmers often spray crops with chemicals. But a company called Bee Vectoring Technology has developed an environmentally friendly alternative in which bees carry and deliver a fungus that kills off the bad stuff.

Normally, a farmer with an acre of apples sprays about 13 pounds of streptomycin to protect the fruit from fire blight, which can destroy entire orchards. But with the new bee system, a tray at the hive entrance coats the bees’ hairy legs with a natural powderized fungus called BVT-CR7. The fungus acts as an endophyte, and grows harmlessly on the plant. It also prevents parasites and bacteria from taking hold.

As the bees forage for nectar and pollen, they deposit the powderized fungus—of which only 0.04 pounds is necessary—on individual apple blossoms. The delivery method is extremely efficient: A hive of 300 can cover 10 million flowers.

Michael Collinson, CEO of Bee Vectoring Technology, says field tests have shown the method is harmless to the bees. It might offer some relief by limiting the amount of pesticides they would normally encounter. Last May, the USDA said pesticides could be contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that wipes out a large percentage of a hive’s worker bees.

“If you reduce pesticides,” Collinson says, “you’re going to help bee populations by putting less pressure on them.”

This article was originally published in the May/June 2016 issue of Popular Science, under the title “Meet the Tiniest Crop Duster.”