Beekeepers say the BeeConnected app has positive possibilities for their industry, but it’s going to depend a lot on the uptake.
A smartphone app imported from Australia might be the next big tool for beekeepers to manage their sometimes complicated relationship with surrounding farmers.
BeeConnected, an app piloted in Manitoba last year and about to make its full-scale national debut, looks to facilitate communication between beekeepers and pesticide users.
The app for Apple and Android allows registered beekeepers to mark present or planned hive locations. Those locations are compared to data logged by producers or contractors also using the app. If any beekeeping location comes within five kilometres of a logged property or planned spraying location, both parties are alerted. A messenger function will then allow them to communicate, without either being required to provide personal contact information. Hives are reported in blocks of up to two months at a time, although that period may be extended.
“Certainly it enhances the ability of beekeepers and farmers to communicate and spray applicators to communicate to provide another tool to avoid conflict,” said Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council.
The national council partnered last year with the app’s provider, CropLife, to offer it free of charge in Canada.
The app was originally developed by CropLife’s sister organization in Australia. CropLife later announced that the app had broken 1,000 users in that country.
Following its success Down Under, interest in the app spread internationally, including the U.S., Latin America, Asia and Brazil.
In Canada, CropLife championed the app last year and began looking for possible beta testing locations. The organization eventually reached out to the Manitoba Aerial Applicators Association, Manitoba Beekeepers Association, Manitoba Agriculture and various other industry stakeholders.
“The need arose when we asked beekeepers what their main issue was; it was really around communication and knowing when and whether growers or aerial applicators were going to be applying products, and same thing with aerial applicators and commercial growers,” CropLife Canada acting president Pierre Petelle said. “They were saying it would be good to know where those hives are, so this app filled that need of connecting those two groups together.”
CropLife took feedback on the app’s ease of use, missing parameters and general look and feel. Petelle also noted that updates are ongoing.
Allan Campbell, president of the Manitoba Beekeepers Association, was one of the local producers to participate in the pilot.
“It looked like it really fit the bill,” he said. “It looked after the mapping for us, but at the same time looked after any privacy concerns anybody might have about publicly listing where their bee yard locations are.”
“We’re very clear in the agreement with the IT firm that holds the database… legal counsel has been involved since the beginning and those are strictly prohibited and we put that in the terms of agreement. It’s very clear that none of their information can or will be used for any other purpose than management of the app,” Petelle said.
Usernames, user type (i.e. farmer, beekeeper or contractor), relevant hive/field locations and registered pesticide applications will be visible to other users, but not personal contact information or legal names.
A soft launch offered the app across Western Canada following the Manitoba pilot, ending 2016 with 175 registered users. Users were split evenly between beekeepers and pesticide applicators, Petelle said.
CropLife ramped up promotional efforts in 2017, reaching out to media and provincial beekeeping organizations. As of April 2017, the app had over 400 active users.
“It is a process of trying to get information out,” Scarlett said. “It is another tool. We’re trying to hit it really at a busy season, a busy time for everybody, so we expect that there won’t be huge uptake to begin with but that people will see the benefits and hear the benefits. We are looking to those who were in the pilot project last year to make sure that they tell their neighbours and their friends and let them know the value of the program.”
Campbell said he was interested in using the app again this year, but noted that uptake will be the main challenge for an app that requires widespread use before its users can reap the full benefit. It is a challenge that both Scarlett and Petelle have also noted.
Prior to the app, Campbell said, his operations relied largely on word of mouth.
“Hopefully you have a good relationship with all your growers that you’re working with and they’ll communicate with you if there’s any urgency to spray or something and they’re worried about bees,” he said. “But, you know, sometimes they’re good enough to ask, ‘Do you have bees in the area or anybody else?’ and sometimes you may not even be aware of somebody else’s hives being in the area, so with this app, the farmer can just send out a broadcast message to everybody in the area.”