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App helps beekeepers and growers communicate about pesticide use

App helps beekeepers and growers communicate about pesticide use

Saskatchewan is the first Canadian province to embrace the DriftWatch initiative

By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com

Saskatchewan is taking a collaborative approach to deal with bee health issues with the launch of an app that seeks to reduce the likelihood of bee deaths and / or unwanted pesticide residue from drifting onto nearby fields.

The program called, DriftWatch, is a SmartPhone app that serves as a communication tool that enables crop farmers and beekeepers to work together to reduce the danger of bee die off and / or protect speciality crops that grow in organic fields from accidental chemical drift.

DriftWatch, is a voluntary program that encourages beekeepers to register the locations of their bee hives (bee yards), and organic growers to pinpoint their fields on a map. Growers who use pesticides can then check the map before spraying a particular field, as a common courteously to fellow farmers – beekeepers and organic growers alike.

Interestingly, the concept to implement such an initiative started because provincial beekeepers identified communication between industry stakeholders as an area that needed improvement. “The real risk of harming bees comes from post-emergent application of insecticides,” Murray Belyk, manager of Scientific Affairs at BayerCropScience said in an interview with Farms.com.  

Specifically, “what the beekeepers want to know is when farmers are going to spray insecticide,” he said, adding that prior to DriftWatch, it was virtually impossible to know when farmers were going to spray their fields or where beekeepers had their hives. The online tool helps the “applicator and the beekeeper know how they can contact each other.”

If a farmer is able to get in touch with the beekeepers that has hives located in a nearby field, they can work with one another to make a win-win situation for all those involved. Beekeepers can move their hives, or arrange to have a field application done in the morning when bees are not out, or the crop farmer can ask the beekeeper to shut the doors on their hives for a short period of time, while the field is being sprayed. Belyk says that there will be some restrictions on certain insecticide labels, which will determine when the farmer can or cannot spray a field.

In the future, creators of the app hope to have hives equipped with a barcode so that beekeepers can take a photo with their SmartPhone and check hives “in and out” to let the crop farmer know when it is safe to spray the fields. This advancement is currently in its testing phase. At present, DriftWatch functions like Google Maps where users can input their GPS coordinates. While privacy issues were originally a concern, registered participants are granted a high level of privacy, says Belyk.

The program was developed in partnership with the Saskatchewan Aerial Applicators Association (pesticide users), Saskatchewan Beekeepers’ Association, Dow Agro, Bayer Crop Science, and the provincial government.

DriftWatch is a U.S. - based program, but interested parties in Saskatchewan were able to pool together to pay for a licence to get the rights to use the application.  It is a free app for users.

“It’s crazy how fast we went from concept-to-approval-to-implementation,” explained Belyk. “We did it in under a year.”

Belyk admits that while there has been a high level of uptake by beekeepers, more adoption of the app is needed by crop farmers. But despite this obstacle, he remains optimistic that more farmers will participate through better awareness about the benefits for the agricultural community.

The program can be found online at driftwatch.org, which features a map of North America, highlighting participating U.S. states in green and the lone Canadian province – Saskatchewan.

Why is Saskatchewan the only province that is presently offering DriftWatch?

“Because Saskatchewan beekeepers were not afraid to approach industry to say this is what we want,” suggested Belyk.