The agricultural world is one that’s currently undergoing a transformational series of changes. Concerns about natural, organic, and sustainable practices are at the front of more people’s minds than they have ever been before, and concerns about the environment are filtering down to consumers at previously unheard of rates.
As such, any process that can improve efficiency while also improving environmental stewardship is one that likely has a bright future. And Bee Vectoring Technologies (BEE:CA) is developing just such a process.
By using bees to delivery natural biocontrol agents and fungal pathogens to flowering plants, Bee Vectoring Technologies could be on the cutting edge of a process that could revolutionize the way we approach agriculture by dramatically increasing the efficiency with which pesticides can be delivered.
Equities.com got a chance to sit down with Michael Collinson, the President, CEO, and Chairman of Bee Vectoring Technologies, and talk to him about the exciting new process his company is developing.
EQ: This is a really fascinating technology that your company is incorporating here. Can you dig into how you and your team came up with this and how it sort of come into fruition?
Michael Collinson: This story actually starts 14 or 15 years ago when Dr. John Sutton was working in Brazil on our bio control product. It’s a totally organic product, a fungus much like penicillin, which controls pathogens and protects high-value crops. One of the issues was how to deliver this product to the crops that are in bloom because the perfect portal for crops is through the plants flowering system the bloom which is why it has evolved this way.
One of the people Dr. Sutton was working with, a Brazilian fellow mentioned to John, why don’t try using bees. As a consequence, John got in contact with Peter Kevan who is a bee expert at the university, and between the two of them they started working on that process. That became the work we’re currently engaged in at Bee Vectoring Technologies.
Todd Mason joined John and Peter in about 2006, and he took those rudimentary processes and then developed a carrier which we call Vectorite that allows different inoculums to be put into the tray. So through that process, we then perfected the dispenser system. From the dispenser system, we actually formulated our company and the rest is probably what you know.
EQ: How does the system work? Is there a particular type of bee that you use?
Michael Collinson: We can use honey bees, and in fact, we used honey bees when we first started. The political and environmental pressure on honey bees, though, and the requirement of trained personnel to actually manage them ultimately makes them less feasible than bumblebees. Commercially, bumblebees have been in use for 20 to 25 years. These bees are grown specifically for pollination, and for the last 20 years or so, only for the greenhouse crops.
These bees are used to pollinate, which is the process of taking male and female plants to cross pollinate them to provide seeds from these plants. They’re commercially reared, with typically between 200 and 300 bees per hive, and the hive lives for about 2 months and dies out naturally. They’re extremely worker friendly, which is why they're used. They fly in much lower temperatures than honey bees and can carry up to 100% of their own weight in pollen and or inoculum. They are an extremely friendly and docile insect.
So when the bee goes out to pollinate, it leaves the hive, picks up pollen and nectar from nearby plants, and then return to feed larvae inside the hive. When the bee exits the hive, it walks through a tray and inside this tray is the Vectorite powder that can contain different types of inoculants. They pick this inoculant up as they leave the hive, and when they go and visit the flowers they deposit a tiny little of it on every plant that they visit. The bumblebee will visit about 10 flowers every minute, and over 21 days, one hive of bees can touch as many as 63 million flowering plants.
That’s how the system works. We can distribute any kind of dry inoculant through our product and delivery system, whether it's our own biocontrol or other people's. We can do that through our dispensing system.
EQ: How do you ensure that the bees will deliver the biocontrol agents and/or pathogens to the desired plants?
Michael Collinson: First of all, all bees, and especially bumblebees, are extremely economical creatures. The purpose of a bee is to go and collect nectar and pollen, and they will fly the shortest distance possible to pick up nectar and pollen. That’s how they're set up. If you put them right beside a flowering plant or crop, they will always come to the shortest distance to get there. So positioning the bees very close to pollinating crops in bloom will result in them going directly to those crops.
EQ: The trend towards organic and natural methods of agriculture has been a real market force over the last decade and should continue to be. How do you see your company and your technology fitting into that?
Michael Collinson: We definitely have the wind at our backs. Let me give you an example: the current methodology for suppressing and controlling a primary pathogen on apples called Fireblight, a disease caused by bacteria, is to spray the entire orchard with an antibiotic called Streptomycin upwards of six times. Approximately 5 kg per acre of this antibiotic is distributed. When we use the bees, we actually use less than 20 grams per acres with better results. Some 99.6% of Streptomycin in the standard process is actually ending up in the wrong place or going back into the environment, which is not a healthy process.
We’re definitely on the leading edge of using less pesticides and inoculants in order to control pathogens, because the fastest growing segment of pesticide control is actually through what we call biologicals. Our product, BVT CR7, is a biological, and is also a totally organic product. We probably eat it every day; it’s found around the world. The particular strain that we use is extremely effective for what it's being used for controlling pathogens in high value crops. It does not kill anything but spatially outcompetes the disease and at the same time make the plant stronger which results in better crops that last longer, all organically.
We’re definitely on the leading edge both on using organic and reducing total pesticide use without compromising effectiveness in controlling pests.
EQ: What should investors expect to see from Bee Vectoring Technologies over the next year?
Michael Collinson: Bee Vectoring Technologies is the first company in the world dedicated to this process. We have two different streams of revenue that are available to us. The first being the use of the dispensing system with other companies’ inoculums. Companies like Syngenta (SYT) , Nufarm (NUFMF) , Bayer CropScience (BAYRY) , or Marrone Bio Innovations (MBII) , for example, have a lot of bio control products that can use our distribution system. We're looking to build partnerships over the next 12 to 14 months with these types of companies to deliver what is currently used in the marketplace in lower doses and with more efficiency.
The second revenue stream is the registration of our own bio control, BVT CR7, and that process takes about 18 to 24 months to complete.
We’re also looking to expand rapidly around the world into principal crops that we would like to focus on. So we will be moving into strawberries, tomatoes, apples, sunflowers, canola, raspberries, almonds, and some cucurbits. Those are our principal crops that we are going to focus on right now, but we are doing some trials on coffee. Principally, any pollinating plants or plants that require pollination we can deploy our system to help.
EQ: Do you have any additional closing comments you would like to make?
Michael Collinson: This is probably one of the more exciting areas inside agricultural sector right now. Pesticides are a $70 or $80 billion industry and Biologicals are growing at a rate of 18% year-over-year, making it one of the fastest growing segments in the industry. This is the area where companies are paying the most attention. The cost to deliver a new product today or develop a new pesticide is in excess of $250 million.
Chemical pesticides lose their efficacy as the pathogens become immune to their properties, just like humans and the antibiotics. Biologicals don’t have the same issues. The BVT process is a lot less expensive, more efficient, uses substantially less product, is more environmentally friendly, and definitely represents the leading edge of where agriculture is going. BVT has the ability to “stack” multiple pathogens controls into their unique patent pending systems thereby delivering controls throughout a bloom period as opposed to spraying once or twice during the same period. Naturally perfect.
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