Max Cherney is Director of Operations at Nectar Technologies and Dr. Rae Olson is a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University. Together they work with Precision Beekeeping in Quebec, Canada developing a data driven app for commercial...
Max Cherney is Director of Operations at Nectar Technologies and Dr. Rae Olson is a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University. Together they work with Precision Beekeeping in Quebec, Canada developing a data driven app for commercial beekeepers to use to seasonally track not only individual colonies but entire beeyards, with each colony having an individual identity within that beeyard. Using GPS technology to identify a location, a beeyard, or a colony, can be tracked for an entire season. This can tell a beekeeper location differences as far as a host of variables is concerned, plus a long list of the results of management differences.
For instance, at the beginning of the season, colony and beeyard analyses can be made to determine the status of the yard and each hive. Then when some of the colonies, each with an QR ID code are moved, the early information in the cloud can tell what differences exist later in the season without having to take notes, enter them on a spreadsheet and hope you can remember what you did when and to which colony.
Data can be collected automatically when a yard is treated for varroa, fed, requeened with new stock, or other management issues. All you need is a cell phone with the app and you are set to collect. If you don’t have a cell signal, the data is automatically loaded right to the phone and automatically downloads when a signal is found. The data is stored and can be analyzed later, adding information collected earlier in the season. This can show the beekeeper the long-term impact of different treatments, feeding schedules, kinds of feed, queen suppliers, local forage, local weather and more.
Still in the development stages, Nectar is working with commercial beekeepers in several locations and using different management schemes to determine what data beekeepers will want and need, then what data the analysis team will need to collect to analyze the data collected. Right now, Nectar is working with beekeepers on a dozen or so data points, but the researchers behind the scenes are pointing to over 70 different data points needed to better analyze what is going on.
Data analysis is based on a three-prong approach – providing an easy-to-use dashboard for data entry by beekeepers, determining exactly what information beekeepers want and need, and working with researchers to get the most out of treatments and location data.
The future of beekeeping is here. Listen today!
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer service, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine destined for your coffee table. Each page of the magazine is dedicated to the stories and photos of all pollinators and written by leading researchers, photographers and our very own, Kim Flottum.
We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow to Beekeeping Today Podcast today!
Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com
Thank you for listening!
Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news information and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.
Introduction: Hey, Jeff, and Kim, today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.
Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.
Jeff: Hey, thanks, Sherry. You know each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support. They help make all of this happen and provide us the ability to bring you each episode. Thanks to Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.
We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms a sponsor of this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more on our season two episode nine podcast with Editor Kiersten Traynor and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com. That is with a number two. Also while you're there, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms, the podcast, also available from her website or from wherever you download and stream your podcast. Hey everybody. Thanks for joining us again this week. We are so happy. You're here. Hey, Kim.
Kim: Hey Jeff. Good to be with you again. How are you doing?
Jeff: Doing good.
Kim: What's your weather out there in fire country?
Jeff: All the fires east of us, so we're extremely dry which, this is recorded, so I'll have to play it back in November when we're in nothing but days and days of rain and gray clouds but blue skies, bright sunshine low 80s, it's beautiful. I told you that I pulled honey last weekend, and I extracted it and it's looking really good. I'm feeling like a successful beekeeper today.
Kim: That's always a good feeling. I haven't got that far yet and I need to get there. Our weather has been a little less predictable. It's been hot and rain and then it rains. Just wait a minute, it will be hot again and then it rains. The good thing is that everything's growing well. The garden is really producing well, and when it's hot and if you've got enough water, plants are happy.
Jeff: Are very happy.
Kim: Tomatoes and cucumbers and summer squash and all the good things every day.
Jeff: That's the way Summer is supposed to be in Ohio. Speaking of the hives, a couple of weeks ago, you mentioned a book, At the Hive Entrance by H Storch. Am I pronouncing that right? Storch?
Kim: Yes, you got it.
Jeff: I unwind from my day, just go out and sit in front of the bees and just watching the front of the entrance. I pretty much think I know what's going on, and I like to watch and see how many are bringing in pollen in and how much is the washboarding effect going on and compare it to what he has written in his book.
Kim: You can get that book through Northern Bee Books if you really want to chase it. Jeremy's got copies for sale there. The guy who did it was really observant, and he was really good at looking at the behavior outside and comparing it to what's going on inside, and it is a very useful book.
Jeff: I enjoyed it. I think anybody wants some light reading but informative, grab that book while it's available and enjoy it. Good find, Kim.
Kim: Speaking of books, my publisher touched base with me this week and my latest book is going to be out in October now, they tell me. The title is Common Sense Natural Beekeeping. I teamed up with a really good partner. Her name is Stephanie Bruneau, and she's got a book out, had a book out a couple of years ago called The Benevolent Bee, which is making crafts, candles, creams, lotions, potions, and all of those things.
She took the part of Common Sense Natural Beekeeping, and she took it to people who use hives other than the standard Langstroth hive, like we did with The Hive series. She went and talked to some of these people, and what's good about some of these hives, what doesn't work as well, how can one make them as accommodating as possible for the bees so that the bees thrive, the beekeeper thrives, and things work out pretty well for everybody. I'll tell you a little bit more about it next time.
Jeff: Oh, it'd be fantastic. Common Sense Natural Beekeeping, and that's not an oxymoron, promise.
Kim: Yes. [laughs]
Jeff: That's good. I look forward to hearing that. You're pushing out another book. You're almost like the Tom Clancy of beekeeping books, aren't you? There's no murder mystery. There's no international espionage.
Kim: No, I'm old and retired and got nothing better to do.
Jeff: [laughs] That's good.
Kim: I got all of these years of dealing with other people's writing, now I'm putting it to use.
Jeff: It's a good use of time too, I'm looking forward to that book. Coming up, we have Ohio Bee Conference. They're in Medina, Kim.
Kim: Yes, Jerry's got it's called his October event. We started it a few years ago, and we tried to do something a little bit different and a little bit bigger every October. We'd bring in a bunch of speakers in. Jerry's, he's dealing with diversity, he's calling it, and the people he's got spend the entire, how do I put this, the entire beekeeping world in terms of skills and experience and responsibility. If you want to find out more, take a look at Bee Culture's most recent issues, or on their webpage, and you can see who's speaking and what they're going to be talking about. It goes from A to Z. It's pretty amazing.
Jeff: They have a great list of speakers, the Ohio Bee Conference, it's "Being diverse, inspiring leaders and beekeeping." It's October 1, 2, and 3 in Medina, Ohio. There is limited space, so we encourage you to sign up and register as soon as possible, and you never know who you might see there, right, Kim?
Kim: Yes, exactly. I look forward to it. My role in it is relatively minimal. I'm the chauffeur to the airport for the speakers. [laughs]
Jeff: You're overqualified, let me just say that.
Kim: I don't know, you've never driven with me, Jeff.
Jeff: Oh, yes, I have.
Kim: Who's coming up today? Who are we talking to?
Jeff: Glad you asked. We have today with us Max Cherney and Rae Olsson. Max is with Nectar Technologies, and Rae is with Washington State University, and they've come together to develop some technologies for hive monitoring and apiary monitoring,
Kim: Apiary monitoring, that sounds interesting.
Jeff: Bee yard monitoring. It just is keeping track of what's going on in your bee yard. I think it's going to be a good discussion. It goes along with our theme that we frequently have on technologies and beekeeping.
Kim: Right. Okay, good. Let's go.
Jeff: No worries. First a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
Sponsor: Hello, beekeepers. Your honeybees face a lot of challenges out there. Unbalanced food sources for monoculture crops, holding yards, drought, food, shortages, antibiotics, pesticides, and pathogens like chop fruit. To overcome these challenges, your bees need the multiple bacteria that are in all nectars, pollens, and the environment. These bacteria aid honeybees' digestion and improve your honey bees' response and resilience to pesticides.
Now, you can help improve your honey colony health with a quick, easy, and safe-to-use product. Strong Microbials SuperDFM-HoneyBee uses naturally occurring bacteria to restore the healthy gut biome of your honeybees. Check them out today at wwwstrongmicrobials.com
Jeff: Hey, and while you're at the strong microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of useful beekeeping information and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast, and we want to welcome Max Cherney, director of operations of Nectar-- I'm sorry, Nectar Research? Is that Nectar Research?
Max Cherney: Nectar Technologies. Nectar is okay, though.
Jeff: Nectar Technology, director of Nectar, and Rae Olsson, postdoctoral researcher, also working with the Nectar team. Welcome to Beekeeping Today podcast.
Rae Olsson: Thank you so much for having us.
Max Cherney: Thanks. Happy to be here.
Kim: It's good to finally meet you guys. I've been reading about the work you've been doing. It sounds neat, I got to tell you. It must be fun to go to work every day.
Rae: That definitely is true. When you get to work with bees every day, it's always a good day to go to work.
Jeff: It is. Can you tell us a little bit about Nectar Technologies and how you got started? We'll start with that point.
Max: Sure, I'll tell you a little bit about Nectar. We are a precision beekeeping technology company based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and we've been around for around four years. Our mission is to help beekeepers raise more productive bees and secure our pollinated food supply. Exactly how we do that and how we work to do that has evolved over time.
I'm sure we'll get a little bit into the story of how we've gotten to where we are today, but roughly, the way that we're doing it today is with our product called BeeTrack, which is an RFID-based technology that places smartphones in beekeepers' hands and allows them to track individual colonies so as to get a better understanding of the relationship between their management practices and outcomes.
Something that we learned early on was that especially migratory pollinators have a difficult time tracking individual colonies as they get moved between locations. Actually knowing their outcomes and the outcomes of their work can be very difficult. We got working with Rae in Washington State University to support them in being able to deliver beekeepers in the industry better management practices. Maybe I'll let Rae chat more on that.
Rae: When I first learned about the technology available through Nectar and was at the beginning of my postdoc position in Dr. Hopkins lab, I was also brand new to honeybees as a research system. A lot of the time when I was out in the field or learning about beekeeping practices, I really frequently thought to myself, "I wonder why we're doing this thing the way that we're doing it." The response that I often got was, "Well, this is how we've always done it." That just really wasn't an acceptable answer for me because it seemed like folks were having a hard time keeping track of their hives and information was getting lost in the shuffle, particularly, as Max mentioned, with the migratory honeybee movement.
I worked to develop a research project that we submitted to the USDA through their Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program that would utilize Nectar's technology to help us track honeybee hives as they move throughout the migratory season, and take a lot of detailed research information, take a ton of data on what was happening to those bees at any given time point, and would allow us to monitor and measure the health outcomes at the end of the season in a much more streamlined way than we've really ever had the possibility to do before.
Kim: It sounds good. It's an admirable goal, but what is the technology you're using? How are you doing-- [crosstalk]
Max: Sure. The technology itself is quite simple, and I think that's what we're so excited about. We place what we call bee tags on the outside of hives, and included on them is a unique identification ID, as well as a QR code and NFC chip, and we equip beekeepers with a smartphone application. Essentially, by scanning hives at their unique locations, we're able to automatically create yards that merge all of the hives.
Therefore, if beekeepers want to do their typical yard-based reporting, which is very common across commercial beekeepers, so whether they're reporting on treatment or feeding, they can create one report, but assign those reports to each individual colony. Later on, they can mark dead-outs or whether a hive was able to make it to pollination. Rentability, honey production metrics, and all of that gives us an ability to provide beekeepers with a better understanding of the relationship between their feeding, their treatment, the locations where they place their bees, and some of those outcomes.
Jeff: The tag on the front of the hive, it's more than a QR code. You said there's another type of chip in it? Is that a proximity chip? Is it a RFID card or RFID tag?
Max: Yes, the technology is called NFC, it's Near-Field Communication. Apple Pay, Google Pay, that's the technology that they employ. This is one of the options that you can use to scan an individual colony. They're really built as redundancies, so the beekeepers have options for either QR scanning from a few feet away or touching their phone right up to the ID, which is a better option sometimes when there's bee bearding going on and push the bees away, but typically, the QR scanning is the scanning of choice.
Jeff: Your app will take that information and consolidate it into a yard grouping of data. Does it also perform some sort of analysis, so you get a what, an average, or this yard is gaining, this yard is helping? How does that work?
Max: Sure, yes. As soon as you scan all the hives at an individual location, they're merged based on their proximity. Our algorithm that merges them together is an increasingly complex one. I won't necessarily dig into that, but basically, a yard is a yard is a yard. All those hives are merged into the yard, and then what's next is really up to the beekeeper in terms of what they'll report on.
Typically, many of the commercial beekeepers that we're working with are looking at inputting feeding at a yard level, but that'll then be assigned to a hive. Treatment, again, at a yard level, that will then be assigned to a yard. Anomalies, hive-level reports, so hive number one, two, three, four, five is showing such and such problem, it's queenless, it's got chalkbrood.
Perhaps this is an issue that we want to address today, perhaps this is an issue that we want to address next time we'll come through, but what all of that reporting allows us to do is to really provide them with a sophisticated reporting. I think that's where the Washington State Project comes in and really the data analysis. We do have an internal team of data scientists who are working to provide commercial beekeepers with automated reports that help them better interpret the outcomes of different management practices. I think that the team at Washington State University, what they're doing goes even further than just the data that is being entered and the outcomes.
Kim: Let me understand this. A beekeeper comes into a yard, and using his smartphone scans the QR code on the front of the hive, and then he's going to have to examine that hive and say it's queenless.
Max: That's an option for sure. What we see as the beauty of our tool is its flexibility. It really depends on what beekeepers want to report on. On one end of the spectrum, we have a few beekeepers we're working with that are looking at very, very precise research questions across the season and not utilizing the tool outside of that. An example is, what is the effect of a specific location in pollination and on the health of my bees? Essentially, just scanning for location in specific crops that beekeepers is working with, with canola, with blueberries.
Then they'll scan dead-outs at the end of the season, and we'll be able to provide them better indication of which crops are having which effects on their mortality and which contracts, and which locations specifically. Was there potentially a exposure to a sublethal dose of pesticides at one location that didn't create mortality, that was observable within a month or two, but the hives moved three, four times over the course of the season, and that data is observable at the end of the next season?
At the other end of the spectrum, I'd say is some of our more detail-oriented research clients who are potentially recording everything under the sun that they could observe within a colony. I'd say that Rae probably would represent one of those types of users.
Rae: Yes. That was what drew us to the product initially is the flexibility. Washington State University's bee program has about 200 beehives that we track and monitor and move around and use for research. Even our own record keeping, especially because we are a university and we have so many different people working on various projects, can get messy. The option of using this app to track the location of our hives and the different types of treatments that are being applied to them was really helpful. We use it to monitor just our regular beekeeping activities, things like seeding and treatments for Varroa mites, making splits, requeening.
We track those regular beekeeping activities within the app, but then we also use the app as our data sheets when we're making really fine-scale observations, so measuring things like queen status, number of frames of bees, frames of brood, disease symptoms, the weight of the hives, the honey stores, the pollen stores. By the flexibility of the app allowing us to monitor so many different factors, we hope that we'll be able to pick out patterns from this data that we would not have otherwise been able to see because we're able to track on such a large scale in terms of number of hives, but also on such a fine scale just in terms of using the app to record that data.
Kim: The beekeeper was recording the data, is that right? The beekeeper comes in and looks and examines the hive, and you just gave all the attributes that he or she may be looking for. Does it need feeding? Does it need treating for Varroa? How many frames of brood? How many frames of honey? He's got a data sheet on a clipboard in front of him and records all that data, right?
Rae: The user is using the app to record that data instead of having to use a clipboard.
Speaker 2: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Beekeeping Today podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalogs to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of, "Beekeepers serving beekeepers". See for yourself at betterbee.com.
Kim: Okay. Tell me how, with a cell phone, how does that app work. I come up and I take a picture or I touch my phone to the QR code thing on the front of the hive. How do I record the data using the cell phone?
Rae: I will go out into the field. I'll enter a yard of honeybee hives. The first thing I'll do is create the yard, or scan the location of the hives. I'll open the app, open the camera on the app, and it's really easy as long as the camera's open and can see that QR code on the front of the hives, it's very fast. I can just walk by the hives and the camera's picking up the QR codes as I walk past them, makes it pretty easy. I can scan all of those hives up to probably a hundred hives within just a few minutes. Within the app, then I have a couple of options. I've got this yard created, so this location where all these bees are, it's been created in their database.
Any activities that I want to do can either be applied to the yard or to the individual hive. For example, if we're going to be feeding honey or sugar syrup, for example, and that's something that we would likely do for all of the hives in the yard, then I can just create a yard report saying, "I fed all of the bees in this hive." I just have to click that button one time and then the app will apply that treatment to all of the 100 hives in that yard. On the other side of it, then I can go through and for every single individual hive, I can create a hive report where I'm making notes of things like queen status and frames of brood, frames of bees, disease status.
Now, that's not something that I would have to do as a beekeeper. It could be quite time-consuming for them to go through and take those extensive notes, for every single colony, but as a researcher, that is the level of information that I want. It is really nice for me to be able to use one single tool, to keep track of all of the different types of data that I'm collecting, and also keep track of all of the different treatments that we're applying to our hives.
Kim: Essentially, the app is asking you questions and you can answer or not answer those questions. "How many frames of brood?" "No, I don't want to know that." "How many frames of honey?" "Don't want to know that." That sort of thing, that's how it works?
Rae: Yes, effectively. It's a little bit more user-driven. It's not like popping up with questions, but that's effectively the use of it.
Jeff: That'd be really handy because a lot of these apps, or I shouldn't say a lot of these apps, but I'm familiar with, and a lot of times, you have to go through individual hives. You can't do anything at the yard level and have it apply to all the hives in that yard. That's a nice feature.
Kim: Because you have individual hive data, if for some reason you have to take 10 of those hives out of that yard and put them someplace else, you can follow them and see, you can take a look at the bees that stayed in that yard and the bees that got moved, look at any differences and say, "Aha, there's the problem." Or, "There's the reason why these 10 changed," because of the move and the exposure in the environment and where all the other things. That's a nice feature to have, I can see that very well without having to paint big numbers on the top and remember which number came from which yard. I can see that.
Jeff: Kim, you can use the app, and you could do away with your bricks. Brick on the end means one thing. Brick on its side means another thing. No brick means--
Rae: It's also really helpful because we don't have to decipher each other's terrible handwriting.
Kim: That makes sense. How are you going to be using this-- You said you're looking at solving some of the four Ps problems. How are you people using this equipment to apply it to that grant?
Rae: We're using the equipment as our data collection tool. The features that are provided by the technology allow us to monitor locations and take date timestamps whenever we visit the hives. We're using the app effectively as our data sheet. It's reducing the overall time input that we would have to spend filling out data sheets by hand, and then transferring that information into a spreadsheet. This way we're taking the data directly into our phones, which is also capturing a location and a date and a GPS point so that at the end of the season, we can build this map of the migratory route of all the different hives, as long as they've been scanned throughout the season.
We can create a map of their movement. Because we're also taking down data on the colony house and pesticide residues that might be present within the colony, and we're collecting information on environmental and weather conditions as well, we can use all of that data to try to build an understanding of what happened to those hives over the course of the season that maybe wasn't necessarily captured in just our day-to-day observations because we really do have access to a much higher and finer-scale detail of the information.
We'll be using that information to, and alongside beekeeping partners, the folks at WSU, they're just a few of us, but we have a number of beekeeping partners who are working with us who are also collecting some of this data. Through this technology, the researchers don't necessarily have to be everywhere. We can put this technology in the hands of beekeepers, and as long as they are comfortable using it, which the app is relatively easy to use.
Nectar has been great about providing training for the beekeepers and providing information both in English and Spanish, which is really excellent because many of the apiary workers are Spanish speakers. By creating this tool, it allows us to extend the research capabilities that our team has to capture information about a lot more hives than we really have ever had access to in the past.
Kim: That makes sense. When I'm in the bee yard and I'm collecting this data, is my phone talking to a computer someplace up in the cloud, or is it being stored on my phone and I have to download it later?
Max: That really depends on whether or not there's signal in the area. The way that it works is when a report is submitted and essentially you click done at the end of inputting whatever it is you're inputting, the app will send it off to the cloud, but if there should not be any cellular network picked up, then what will happen, it will be saved on the app locally, and then once you return to an area where you're accessing internet, it'll automatically upload.
Kim: Okay, that's easy and safe.
Jeff: We've been saying cell phone, but I assume this also works on a pad of some sort, like an iPad or a tablet?
Max: Yes. It does work on a tablet, though the vast majority, right now I believe it's 100% of our users, are working on smartphone applications. The beauty of the smartphone is that you have it on you already. It's already in your pocket, and we're by no means suggesting that the phone should come out at every last step of the beekeeping progress or process, but instead, just at key moment that it's there and it's handy.
Kim: Is there an upper limit on how many hives you can measure with this?
Max: No, that's the beauty of the system. There's no upper limit. It scales. We're already working with some of the larger commercial beekeepers in North America and the world, and we're totally built to be able to work with very, very large datasets.
Jeff: Does it integrate with any of the existing sensors in the marketplace today?
Max: It doesn't in a pure sense take in sensor data as one might expect from in hive acoustics or humidity, but what it does provide is a timestamp and a location stamp on every data point. What that does is it allows us to overlay remote sensing data, the local weather and other datasets that may have an impact on bee health. I know that's an area that Washington State is quite interested in looking at, so to simplify that, any time that you scan a hive location, you also know what time it happened, where it happened, and thus can easily pull an extended amount of remote sensing data that might be useful.
Kim: How does that work if I can't get a phone signal in that yard?
Max: If you can't get a phone signal, we've got an offline mode on the app, so you can collect all the data, it'll save in the app, and then once you return to somewhere where you do have signal, the app will automatically send that data off to the cloud.
Kim: Not being at all experienced in this, you've got a location data. How does the phone know where it is if it doesn't have a signal?
Max: That's based on GPS, which doesn't require cell signal. At all times, there's an increasing amount of satellites flying around above head, and so if you're way, way out into the yards, the satellites are still picking you up, and in fact, oftentimes, the quality of the GPS coordinates is even better the further out that you are.
Kim: I can see why this would be very, very useful for a commercial operation because you've got, however, thousand colonies spread out over how many probably states, and the weather is variable and the agriculture is variable, and actually, the quality of the employees is going to be variable. You should be able to probably measure all of those things.
Max: Yes. The research questions are endless. To tie this a little bit back to Rae's research, where I think this becomes interesting, is to tell a little bit of a story of how BeeTrack came to be, just an aspect of it, we were always told that you couldn't have a smartphone in the yard. There's honeybees, there's propolis, there's gloves, and so we assumed that to be true. Fast forward a little bit of time, we figured out that there was a workaround that could allow for what we call low-touch record-keeping, so there's really small amount of actual use of the application in the yard.
That was a key turning point for us in the design process that allowed us to consider smartphones in the hands of apiary workers across North America and eventually the world. By doing that, we would be able to consider datasets at a scale that had never been seen and also context-specific datasets. Oftentimes, academia is working with relatively limited datasets in their research that are specific to certain locations.
What really excited us here was the opportunity to provide beekeepers with a tool that would allow them to address the research questions that were most pressing for them and most specific to their area and their precipitation and their migratory route and whatever it is that their context variables are such that best practices and learnings could be tailored to them. The limitations around previous research really, really reduced the amount of applicability in certain cases for commercial beekeepers to look at a research paper and say, "How do I apply this to my practice and take action in my management practices?"
I think that's why Washington State University has made for such a great partner is that I think what they see as game-changing here is the opportunity to scale datasets at a size that it just has never been done before by deploying a tool that really is designed to be used by anyone, anytime, anywhere, and thus allowing the apiary worker to collect these data points with minimal challenges.
Kim: I can see how other scientists might be interested in using this also and fine-tuning some research project where they've got basically the same problems, "I can't be everywhere at once, so I can give it to beekeepers, and they can collect my data for me." Wow, that's cool. [laughs]
Jeff: When you get the setup from Nectar, there's a standard template, but you can customize it to your own operation, correct, so you can weed out all the questions you don't necessarily want, don't pertain, and not have to go through them each time you enter information for a yard or for a hive?
Rae: Yes. As the operation manager, the beekeepers can specify pretty much anything they want. I have been the operation manager for a number of these projects because I'm the lead researcher, and so I'm able to say, "This is the type of information I'd like you to collect." It's not necessarily information the beekeeper would have collected otherwise, but because of the flexibility of the tool, I'm able to say, "Please measure these specific things." Any beekeeper could tailor it to their own operation just as any researcher can tailor it to their own research questions.
Max: I'm giggling here because Rae of all of our users has definitely flexed to the system to the nth degree in inputting every possible beekeeping practice under the sun, so we've definitely had last over that.
Rae: I think I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 variables that the beekeepers can collect, and I know most commercial beekeepers are looking at five or so.
Rae: I think that just speaks to the flexibility of the tool in allowing me as the researcher to really pull in all the information that I want to collect.
Kim: Is a beekeeper going to be able to do this, add these variables as you put it? I don't need a researcher standing behind me making these adjustments, I got the widget in my hand, and I can make it happen whatever it is I want to happen and it will collect that data, and then it's up to somebody to analyze that data. How does that work?
Max: For sure, yes. To address your first point there, we are working with all sorts of commercial beekeepers where researchers aren't involved in the project. In those projects, typically, we reduce the number of beekeeping practices that are expected. At the end of the day, the beekeeper themselves are the ones who decide what should be input and what types of questions they want to analyze, but typically, they lean toward a simpler amount of data collected. In terms of data analysis, we're in the process of building out within our managers portal, which is where managers can view the data, different features that allow them to easily analyze the data.
We really view this as a three-pronged approach where, firstly, we should provide the beekeepers with the dashboards for them to be able to visualize as easily as possible without necessarily having a data science background. That's one area where we can provide them insights. The second is that we do work directly with the beekeepers in creating research questions within their operations, so specific things that they have been interested in digging into and we'll look at that with them.
One of the questions that we've been asking that was really fundamental from the beginning of our work on this product was the different effects of location on mortality, specifically for beekeepers who were moving around so many times that they couldn't possibly tell you when looking at a colony near the end of the season where it had been earlier in the season. That's one research question.
Some other ones that have been of interest is, what is the effect of different queen lines? Are there best queen lines for different areas within my operation? Those are some of the things that we're exploring. Then the third prong is working with researchers, and so projects like the one with Rae, another project in which we're working with Washington State University and Dr. Brandon Hopkins on the effects of location on mortality, but also the effects of different Varroa treatment types and timing and mortality. We'll work with the researchers to dig into those questions.
Jeff: If I was a large sideliner or a commercial beekeeper and I wanted to get going, how would I get started?
Max: If you're a commercial beekeeper, you can reach out to us on our website at nectar.buzz and learn more about the product and set up a demo of sorts. For a large sideliner, we would love for you to reach out and we hope and plan to work with you as soon as possible, so it's definitely in our plans, but it's not lined up for 2021 or 2022, at least the early parts. That's how you could work with us.
Jeff: Very good. I appreciate that. This has been very informative. Is there anything else that we haven't asked you that you want to add?
Rae: As far as I'm concerned, I think that this is just a great opportunity for beekeepers to just evaluate the way that they're keeping track of their bees, and asking themselves, "Is there something that I'm doing that I could be doing differently? Are there opportunities to change or shift the way that the beekeeping practices go toward more efficient management and away from doing something because this is the way it's always been done?"
Kim: Yes. I can see if nothing else, I know commercial beekeepers out there that pretty much have it all together, but this is just faster and better way to measure what they're doing rather than, like I said before, the taking notes in the field, writing them down and putting them on a spreadsheet.
Rae: Right, definitely. Yes, of course, the current way that things have been done doesn't necessarily mean that it's the wrong way, but just that this is another way and could potentially improve accessibility and improve access to data and improve efficiency across the entire beekeeping operation which could benefit everybody.
Kim: Sounds good. You're going to get one Jeff?
Jeff: As soon as I become commercial, I'll be right there and we're knocking on Max and Rae's door.
Jeff: Max Cherney and Rae Olsson, really appreciate being on the Beekeeping Today podcast, wish you the best of luck with your product, and look forward to having you back and receiving occasional updates from you as the product rolls out and expands operational abilities.
Kim: You know what, Jeff? I think what would also be good to do is to, down the road, talk to a couple of commercial beekeepers that are using this product to see what their opinion is and the experience that they've had with it. The inventors of something are usually good salesmen but the people who use the invention are better.
Max: I couldn't agree more. It was pretty exciting to hear Rae give the description of how to use the product and describe it better than I could myself.
Rae: I probably use it more than you do.
Max: Certainly, yes.
Kim: Thank Max and Rae for being here. [music] This was fun. I'm excited about this product.
Max: Great, can't wait to work with you.
Rae: Thanks so much for having us.
Jeff: Bye-bye. That was interesting, what do you think, Kim?
Kim: I like the technology and of all of the things that we're doing, and I don't understand any of them because I am not a techie, but I like what people are able to do with the technology that they're developing. Looking at a whole bee yard over the course of the season in one fell swoop without having to take reams and reams of data really intrigues me.
One of the things that they're really looking at is if you've got a bee yard in April and you know what you did with it all winter and then into April but then in May, you move half of them to another pollination job, and then you look at them in October and you can say, "The ones I moved it a lot better than the ones I didn't move. Why? What was the difference?" I'll tell you the one thing that I like the best about this whole program hinges on one sentence in my opinion.
Jeff: What's that?
Kim: It's when two people are working bees and one of them says, "Why are we doing this, this way?" The other person said, "Because this is the way we've always done it." They are changing the way they've always done it to something else, and that to me makes a lot of sense and is going to really enhance this program, I think.
Jeff: I don't disagree. My challenge to anybody in the technology field, and we have quite a few guests on in the technology front and some coming up here in future shows that we've already recorded, my challenge is-- Well, there's two things that I see in this. One, ultimately, it depends on somebody entering that information. What their program or application is able to report is only as good as the data that goes into it. There's an area of weakness there is data entry. Where is that coming from? Two, does it automate? If I'm using sensors from Vendor A and weight scales from Vendor B and I'm using sound sensors from Vendor C, does my application take all of that in? Is it capable of doing all of that?
There's a second challenge. My third question on all this is when is all of that going to come together so that they all start working together? I think when we have James Wilkes on or something, and he was talking about the BXML and that's a common dataset language for getting all these products to work together, that's going to be the defining moment, when all of this works together from one product to another, from one vendor to another product to another vendor and they all come together to produce one report for the beekeeper to use and manage from. Did I make sense?
Kim: Yes, but then I'm going to be out of a job when all of this stuff works.
Kim: They won't need beekeepers anymore.
Jeff: You know there are a lot of companies and we've tried to get him on the show where they have the fully automated hive, so we'll see how that goes.
Kim: This is another step ahead, I think. You were talking about, they've got 70 some things that they can measure with this program. Most of us think of two or three when we open a hive, are they alive? Maybe one more, do they need room? They can look at as many as 70 things. [music] Like I said, it's another step in the right direction.
Jeff: That wraps it up for this episode. Hey, before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple podcast, wherever you download or stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker, and I mean that even quicker. What's even better is write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on Reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com.
We also want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast. Check out their full probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee for joining us as our latest supporter. Check out their supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, and really most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?
Kim: Yes, I got just one thing, Jeff. You know I got a lot of friends, not a lot of friends, but I've got several friends who are, what's the term I want, technology deniers. They don't have cell phones. They don't do computers.
Jeff: They're called Luddites.
Kim: Luddites. Okay. As a result, they're not listening to our podcast and they're not getting the information. What you can do is print out the transcript and hand it to them and say, "This is what you're missing, and if you want, I'll show you how to hook up to it." Share us with a friend. If you think it's worth your time, it's going to be worth their time, and this is a good way to do it.
Jeff: Great advice, Kim. Thank you. Thanks, everybody.
[00:52:47] [END OF AUDIO]
Rae is a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University working with Dr. Brandon Hopkins on honey bee health and the environmental conditions that are detrimental to bees. When they aren't working, Rae is the co-chair of the Pullman Good Food Co-op board of directors, and they spend a lot of time hiking and gardening, and playing with their four dogs.
Director of Operations
Maximilian Cherney is the Director of Operations at Nectar Technologies, a precision beekeeping technology startup.
Max joined Nectar in early 2018 and has helped the startup develop their vision around how they could improve the state of affairs for pollinators and the people who work with them. Today, Max works closely with a cutting edge group of early stage collaborators who share Nectar's vision for the future of beekeeping. Those partners include commercial beekeepers who aim to make more data-driven decisions, and applied beekeeping researchers, who are working to provide those same beekeepers with actionable, context-specific learnings from their research.
Prior to Nectar, Max spent time on a regenerative farm. There, he was particularly inspired by the wellbeing of the farm's wild and managed pollinator populations.