Pollinator populations around the globe continue to decline, a scary problem when you consider that we depend on them for about three-quarters of our crops. Israeli startup Edete believes it has a viable solution with its new mechanical pollination machine, which the company calls “a safety net for the world’s food security.”
Last winter, beekeepers in the U.S. lost 50 billion bees, or nearly 38% of their colonies. That’s the highest loss rate in any year since a detailed bee survey began more than a decade ago. Unfortunately, there is still no clear cut explanation for what is causing the bee die-offs. Wild pollinators like bumblebees are in trouble too, with populations being hit by everything from climate change to habitat loss. Without an alternative to reduce our dependency on natural pollinators like honeybees, there are real concerns that food shortages could grow and send prices for staple crops skyrocketing.
That’s where Edete hopes its mechanical pollen harvesting and pollination system can play a vital role. For now, the company is focusing on almonds. The process starts by harvesting flowers from blooming trees using shaking machines used to harvest the almonds. The pollen is separated from the flower and then can be stored for up to a year. That means growers can wait to use the precious powder at the perfect time to match the bloom cycle. When the time is right, the company’s robotic pollinator disperses an optimal dose of pollen on target flowers. The robotic system obviously doesn’t have any limitations on when it can work, unlike bees that struggle in cooler temps and are pretty much dormant after dark.
Edete has completed successful trials in almond orchards in Israel, where they showed a “substantially increased” yield. That productivity boost is due in part because honeybees aren’t necessarily the most efficient pollinators. Eylam Ran, co-founder and CEO of Edete, explains that in order to pollinate an almond blossom, bees need to move between trees, but most of their movements are between blossoms on the same tree. What’s more, if the trees that need to be cross-pollinated aren’t in bloom, the bees are incapable of doing their job.
Ran doesn’t see the Edete system replacing natural pollinators. In fact, he says it works better with their help, but the job can get done a lot faster and with fewer bees when combined with Edete’s machine. Growers already spend over $400 million per season on beehive pollination services. Edete’s artificial pollination as a service (APaS) is expected to priced in-line with those services. Their advantage, according to the company, is an estimated increase of 10%-20% in production and “much less volatility” from one growing season to the next.
The company will continue testing its new system in Israel and Australia, and has plans to begin working large-scale in California’s almond orchards by 2022. Ran says if things go well, they will expand into other crops. The company says the pollination system already works on other crops in the almond family, such as apples and peaches. If you’d like to learn more, check out the Edete website HERE. (Sources: Food Navigator, Fast Company, Edete)