January 26, 2021

WGCIT Startup Irish Company Revolutionizing Beekeeping

By Tim Linden

ApisProtect, an Ireland-based startup that is a resident of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, recently announced the U.S. launch of its powerful commercial honey bee monitoring platform. Revolutionizing in-hive sensing, the company’s system gives beekeepers an easy way to monitor the condition of their colonies remotely in real time so they can improve colony health. Designed in conjunction with commercial beekeepers for commercial beekeepers, ApisProtect claims to provide the most robust, unobtrusive, and cost-effective solution on the market.

“Our science-based honeybee monitoring technology empowers beekeepers to manage their apiaries more efficiently, reduce labor and transport costs, and focus on cultivating larger and stronger colonies,” said CEO Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy. “Using ApisProtect, beekeepers can generate an additional $98 of value from each hive per year.”

The company grew from Dr. Edwards Murphy’s PhD work at the School of Engineering, and the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork in Ireland. “Throughout my career, I have always been really interested in utilizing technology to solve issues that have impacted on people’s daily lives,” she told Western Grower & Shipper in an email interview. “In 2012 and 2013, I saw how beekeepers all over the world were concerned about colony collapse disorder and how that affected bees and wondered if anyone had investigated putting sensors into beehives.”

A little bit of research showed there had been some work in the area but nothing extensive, so she focused her PhD in that arena. She noted that a media interview was responsible for launching ApisProtect. “After discussing my PhD in a radio interview, beekeepers all over Ireland, and internationally, started getting in touch looking for this technology. My cofounders and I decided to start our company, ApisProtect, to see if we could bring this project to life.”

Her doctoral work was specifically in the area of Internet of Things (IoT) applications for honeybee health. She has become among the most widely published authors on Internet of Things and honeybees.

Now monitoring the health of more than 20 million honeybees across Europe and North America, ApisProtect brings the power of advanced sensors and machine learning technology into the hive to deliver a 24/7 early warning system so beekeepers can give at-risk hives immediate attention and improve bee health.

Edwards Murphy said the value of this new technology is that beekeepers no longer need to rely solely on periodic, manual hive checks. “Beekeepers can catch disease, pests and other issues before they deteriorate colony condition beyond rescue. This technology can enable precision beekeeping,” she said.

Specifically, remote monitoring offers:

•  Real-time, continuous monitoring of hive conditions and activity levels

•  Comprehensive early warning system to prevent hive deterioration or loss

•  Immediate alerts delivering actionable insights when specific hives need attention

“This enables beekeepers to optimize all aspects of operations and grow size and number of hives,” she said.

The ApisProtect CEO said the value of remote monitoring is measurable and significant. Beekeepers across the United States lost 43.7% of their managed honeybee colonies from April 2019 to April 2020, according to preliminary results of the 14th annual nationwide survey conducted by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership (BIP). The USDA estimates that bees add about $15 billion in value to U.S. crop production every year. “Our science-based honeybee monitoring technology empowers beekeepers to manage their apiaries more efficiently, reduce labor and transport costs, and focus on cultivating larger and stronger colonies. Using ApisProtect, beekeepers can generate an additional $98 of value from each hive per year,” she said.

Edwards Murphy said an ag problem solved by ApisProtect’s real-time monitoring is that it can help beekeepers identify hives that are strong enough to travel, consequently reducing transportation costs by 25%. She explained that many beekeepers transport their hives across the country to aid in pollination efforts. In fact, speaking in December, she said the pollination season in California will begin in the coming weeks with some bees traveling, via truck, from as far away as Florida to pollinate California orchards.

“As the pollination season edges closer, many of our American beekeepers are planning the mammoth task of transporting over two million honeybees to California,” she said. “Deciding which hives are placed onto an 18- wheeler truck is part of the pre-transportation process. As hives are prepared for transportation, our technology can assess the strength of every hive before going to the apiary so as to identify weak and dead hives. This enables the beekeeper to optimize their labor usage and transport only strong hives which have a greater chance of surviving the journey.”

ApisProtect works directly with beekeepers to help them to manage their colonies. “Critically, we give beekeepers control of their information and data, enabling them to maximize the value to their operation,” she said.

In trials with more than 20 million bees to prove the concept, ApisProtect says it drove a variety of operational improvements that created an opportunity to increase hive count and productivity.

Beekeepers often rely on costly, time-consuming manual hive checks to understand their operation. However, ApisProtect research shows that 80% of manual hive inspections do not require any action on hives but disrupt the bees and risk the loss of a queen. With ApisProtect, commercial beekeepers can now safely identify and respond to disease, pests, and other hive problems faster than ever before, thereby increasing colony size and preventing colony loss. ApisProtect lets beekeepers know immediately when specific hives need attention within their operation, as well as which hives are most productive.

According to the company, the ApisProtect system involves easy hardware installation in existing hives, which takes less than one minute per hive. The “In-hive IoT sensors” offer long-range, cellular and satellite-powered communication with real-time, continuous monitoring of hive conditions and activity levels. The sensor setup also features a comprehensive early warning system with immediate alerts when specific hives need attention.

Due to limited availability of the ApisProtect monitoring platform for commercial operations, interested U.S. beekeepers are encouraged to lock in orders immediately to ensure access for the 2021 pollination season. Final pricing will depend on a variety of factors, including the number of hives and location, and early adopters will be able to help tailor the technology to their specific needs for future seasons. ApisProtect works with U.S. beekeepers through its South Dakota-based office managed by Vice President of Sales Dennis Kautz.