Digital transition seems to be the latest hip in agriculture; initiatives to go digital spring up like mushrooms after rain in warm summer, market products naturally follow. The current policies of the EU handsomely support Precision Agriculture and the development of Precision Agriculture Systems; recently I reviewed a scientific paper on this topic and had to look up what Precision Agriculture Systems actually are – besides being in fashion. The three steps that such PAS should be doing are data collection, analysis, and some automatized adjustment of work procedures. The »digital«should improve both the yield and at least in beekeeping I see also the possibility the digital should assist in going »green«.
In beekeeping, we have a PAS equivalent, called Precision Apiculture Systems. It turns out that already the first step is a demanding one. First, we must consider which measuring gadgets we have at our disposal and what is their purpose. The typical is a hive scale, measuring the gain or loss of the colony’s weight and giving the beekeeper indirect information about the forage. Now, this can be very useful information, especially if the colonies are at some remote location. One can easily imagine both savings and going greener through a decreased need for travel. Here we arrive at the first caveat: the honeybee colonies are like people: each of them is in a different condition and has different character and strength. Consequently, one should then equip more than one colony per apiary, to get an average info. This decreases both the savings and the shade of »green«. Besides scales, there are some other measuring/monitoring gadgets on offer, like hive temperature measurements, sound etc … All this data is supposed to flow into a single application, performing the display of data and some analysis. Here we arrive at the second caveat: the reliability of such systems. Even such simple things, such as hive scales, must be reliable in field conditions, the signal for data transmission must be available and the application, pooling the data and performing analysis should be reliable, too.
Going green in apiculture is more than just digital – it is also to support local. At least in honeybees, it turns out that local populations are better suited to cope with environmental challenges. In the BeeConSel project, we provide tools to honeybee queen breeders to fend off the pressure of non-local imports through conservation-through-utilization. Going green is also how one manages the colonies and treats against ectoparasites, which repro materials are purchased. All these points must be also covered through education which must also be – like in every field – spearheading the efforts. Beekeepers and other agriculturists are conservative and very busy people with very little free time. For that reason, these initiatives must be designed the way through.
Should we embrace these trends? Should we wait until they are proven? Or should we decline to bow to this fashion? At least in digital I would say caveat emptor, buyer beware. In green, we are late anyway.
Dr Janez Prešern