Dec 23, 2019
Vectorite product uses pollinators for delivery

A new product with a new way of delivering it was recently approved by the EPA.

Bee Vectoring Technologies (BVT) recently received approval for Vectorite with CR-7, which uses Clononstachys rosea for use as a fungicide on a variety of crops including strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries, sunflowers and almonds.

There’s the added benefit of not having to hitch up the sprayer. Bumblebees or honeybees can deliver it to blossoms all over the grower’s farm operation.

How it works

BVT’s CR-7 is an organic product, listed with the Organic Materials Review Institute. Clonostachys rosea is a beneficial fungus that essentially inoculates the blossoms by using up resources used by crop-damaging fungi.

That active ingredient is the brainchild of John Sutton, who spent decades at Ontario’s University of Guelph isolating 1,300 different strains of the fungus before selecting the ones now used in BVT’s proprietary products, said BVT product manager Ian Collinson. Sutton remains active in the company today.

“Once he found Clonostachys, and found that it was suppressing these diseases, he said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if a bee could deliver it to the plant, because it’s going right to where it needs to go?” Collinson said. Many of the fungi, including gray mold, botrytis and mummy berry enter the fruit through
the blossom. Sutton began collaborating with University of Guelph colleague Peter Kevan, an expert in bees. The two approached the leader of a plastics company about designing some materials, and the resulting company went public in August 2015.

Busy bees

BVT’s patent-pending technology has bees pick up Vectorite, a mixture containing CR-7, from a tray at the hive.

Although the product is being expanded to honeybees, it was initially developed with bumblebees in mind.

Bumblebees, which unlike honeybees are native to North America, do have preferences about which flowers they like best, but generally, when they move “they go to what’s in front of them,” Collinson said.

“They’re well-adapted to pollinate our plants here,” he said. “They also fly in colder temperatures. They’re bigger so they carry more of our product.”

Honeybees, however, play a crucial role in pollination, and many growers prefer them – they are cheaper and there are many more bees per hive.

“Over the past two years, we’ve started developing, and almost finished, honeybee-dispensing technology as well so we can really capture all of the market,” Collinson said. “Whatever the grower prefers to use, we can use those bees.”

He emphasized that the product is safe for the bees, having undergone external testing by independent labs.

What’s next

The EPA approval in September was a huge milestone for the startup company with a new idea.

Ashish Malik, CEO of BVT, called the approval a “groundbreaking shift in how plant care products can be applied.”

“By using commercially reared bees to deliver biological products, growers can protect crops, increase crop yields and enhance their sustainable growing practices by reducing the use of chemicals and other costly and increasingly scarce resources including water, fuel and labor,” Malik said in a released statement.

Collinson said the company had previously conducted a “soft launch” while working with Florida strawberry growers.

“I think growers definitely see it as another useful tool in their IPM (integrated pest management) program,” Collinson said. It’s an organic product, but he said about half of the growers using it practice traditional agriculture. For traditional growers, access to an alternative product may extend the usefulness of conventional chemistries, he added. For organic growers, it’s a brand-new tool in a relatively small “toolbox” of disease control tools they have access to.

So far, CR-7 is the only active ingredient used with Vectorite, and Vectorite is the only way to spread CR-7. BVT hasn’t formulated CR-7 for spraying. Collinson said the company has tested some third-party active ingredients for use in Vectorite, however, it hasn’t released them yet. The other active ingredients being tested, according to the BVT website are:

• The fungus-based organic pesticide Beauveria bassiana, used to fight beetles, whiteflies, termites, aphids and thrips.
• Antibiotic streptomycin, a non-organic control used for bacterial and fungal diseases of certain fruit, vegetables and seed – especially fire blight on pome fruit.
• The bacteria-based organic pesticide bacillus thuringiensis, which works by producing spores and proteins toxic to insect pests.

Growers are also encouraged to contact BVT for a full list of biocontrol active ingredients the company is considering using.

Depending on the crop and region, growers have different relationships with beekeepers, but BVT has started talking to growers. Growers in Florida, Oregon and Georgia blueberries have been receptive to the new product, and the Pacific Northwest also looks to be a good market for the company, which will soon launch a new sales website.

“We’ve been trying to visit a lot of trade shows,” Collinson said. “We’ve been going directly to growers.”

Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor

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