Beekeepers Association skeptical about effectiveness of new app in Ontario.


Over the last year, beekeepers and grain farmers in Western Canada came together to develop a new smartphone app, called 'BeeConnected'.

The free app was made to connect individual producers across the region.

Now in its final stage, some people wonder if BeeConnected could help people in Ontario connect in the wake of high-profile pesticide regulations, especially surrounding neonicotinoids. The idea, according to the Canadian Honey Council in Alberta, came from a similar initiative in Australia.

“When we all had this discussion, CropLife [Canada] did some looking and found that CropLife Australia had this system and had been using it,” said Kevin Nixon, beekeeper and chair of the CHC. “We thought it was great. It's not going to be perfect, not going to fix everyone's problems … but it [allows for] two-way communication.”

The app relies on Google Maps to identify the location of grain farms and bee farms across Canada. Every farmer or beekeeper who signs up inputs their information. The app then informs them about other operations in the area, and gives them the option to contact those operations.

Mark Huston is a soybean, corn, and wheat farmer in the Thamesville area, and a member of the Grain Farmers of Ontario. He says the app would be helpful, but only if other people sign up for it.

“I'd be curious to know if we had any beehives around us,” Huston said. “If we had access to the app, I think yeah, it'd be foolish not to use it.”

As Huston was quick to point out, this is not the first effort toward connecting beekeepers and farmers in Canada. Two years ago in Ontario, the GFO received money to develop a similar app.

The project – also called BeeConnected – never left the ground.

“It's a process we were trying to undertake 18 months ago … to help mitigate the risks to pollinators,” said Mark Brock, chair of the board of directors with the GFO. “It started, but didn't actually go anywhere … but it's nice to see that kind of communication happening, from a tech standpoint.”

Brock says the app didn't succeed in part because it focused on the wrong people. The app was built to connect beekeepers and farmers, but Brock says there isn't a problem with communication at the individual level.

Huston agrees.

“[We've had] really good relationships with beekeepers,” Huston said. “Yeah, you get sour grapes now and again, but all-in-all [there isn't an issue].”

Instead, the major disconnect in Ontario lies with the GFO and the Ontario Beekeeper's Association, and not with the individual operations, something OBA president Tibor Szabo agrees with.

“The reality is, [beekeepers and farmers] have a close relationship,” Szabo said. “There's been an attempt at portraying divisiveness … the fact of the matter is, on the ground that's really not the case.”

That might be the only thing the GFO and OBA agree on.

Last year, a government regulation limited the use of neonicotinoids, a pesticide thought to harm bees. But conflicting studies have grain farmers up in arms over whether the pesticides actually hurt bee populations.

BeeConnected will not help those concerns. According to Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry with CropLife Canada in Alberta, it was never meant to.

“We're very clear – we're not here to mediate,” he said. “This is not going to resolve all the issues. This is a tool that allows that communication to happen … we've heard very clearly from these communities that's what they needed.”

Technology developed to connect farmers and beekeepers remains a step in the right direction, a point both the OBA and the GFO acknowledge.

“Communication is good,” Szabo said. “I don't know if this app is going to save anybody's bees … [but the] BeeConnect app should be able to work, just so [farmers] know there are people in your area you know are keeping insects.”

“I think if we can communicate more over time, and have this information available, we can make better decisions,” said Brock. “Ensure we're not impacting each others end result.”