RFID for Counting Bees. Really?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 03, 2010 @ 03:50 PM

Beekeepers, Farmers, Buyers and Consumers Benefit from Hive Monitoring

BeesDo you know what portion of the average diet is directly attributed to honey bee pollination? According to estimates, over one-third of the calories in an average American's diet comes from honey bee-pollinated food – including a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries.  That’s an incredible statistic if you think about it, and may give you pause the next time you reach to swat a honey bee flying around your summer picnic food.

Given the importance of the honey bee in the food chain, it is no surprise that farmers and beekeepers are concerned with keeping the bee population safe.  And, yes, believe it or not, RFID is being used in several ways to do so.

RFID for Beehive ID & Production Control

Like many components of an agricultural or manufacturing process, a beehive is a valuable asset.  As such, it is important for beekeepers to know where their hives are and whether they’ve been tended to properly.  By applying RFID to their processes, beekeepers, industrial buyers and producers can get real-time visibility into the complete production chain.

A solution from Apitrack for example, includes RFID tags, handheld RFID readers and software that allows users to collect production data from extraction rooms, fractioning rooms and warehouses.  The result is real-time data that can be used for the traceability and safety of honey, wax and pollen.

RFID for Beehive Monitoring

Stealing a beehive has never been high on my list.  This probably has something to do with my fear of bees after finding out the hard way that I’m allergic to bee stings.  But, apparently hive theft is an issue for commercial farmers and beekeepers.  Commercial farmers often import honey bees to pollinate numerous food crops during a planting season. In fact, pollination service providers supply nearly two and a half million colonies of honey bees each year to pollinate the nation's crops.  And, due to their value and rental cost ($150 - $200), beehives have become a target for theft. 

To help protect beekeepers’ assets and farmers’ investments, Bee Alert has develop Hive Sentry, an RFID-enabled antitheft system that alerts owners when hives in the field are being moved.  Bee thieves beware - Bee Alert has also worked with the U.S. Army to train bees for military applications, so you may want to think twice before you try to steal a box filled with an ornery queen and her busy subjects.

RFID Inside the Hive

Honey bees have two major jobs in life – gathering food (pollen and nectar) and raising more bees.  Given their short lifespan of only a few weeks, honey bees are constantly producing a supply of replacements.  For beekeepers, this means inspecting hives in order to determine the colony’s health.  Frank Linton, a beekeeper and engineer, suggests in an RFID Journal article that RFID sensors could be used to measure the internal heat of a beehive to inform the beekeeper of the overall colony’s health and help to determine if any corrective action may be needed.

RFID for Counting Bees.  Really?

Beyond the anti-theft systems offered by Bee Alert, the company has also proposed a system that counts the numbers of bees coming in and out of hives.  Bee Alert envisions these Smart Hives® to be connected to a satellite communications system and a national network of beehive monitors to allow beekeepers – and presumably organizations like the USDA - to monitor the nation’s population of commercial bees and their health.

Prior to conducting research for this post, I wasn’t aware of the many uses of RFID in beekeeping.  But I guess I’m not all that surprised.  Despite my greater appreciation for the honey bee, I can’t promise that I won’t swat any more bees – that is unless someone can tell me how to use RFID to get over my fear of getting stung!

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Food Safety, Agriculture

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