Agritech startup solving 'ever-growing' pollination problem

Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture has developed high-efficiency artificial pollination

A honey bee pollinating a flower. (photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
A honey bee pollinating a flower.
(photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
As the bee and insect population continues to decline, Israeli agritech start-up Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture is working on solving the world’s ever-growing pollination challenge with high-efficiency artificial pollination.
On Tuesday, Keren Mimran, one of four founders of the start-up who also serves as vice president of business development & marketing, told The Jerusalem Post it’s estimated “that every third bite we take is dependent on animal or insect pollination.
“Animal pollination is conducted all over the world, mainly by honey bees,” she explained. “Humans learned how raise bees more than 1,000 years ago – there are pictures of bee raising [recorded] in ancient Egypt, so we do know how to grow colonies of bees and how to bring them into the fields and orchards.”
However, Mimran pointed out that bees are not only creatures that pollinate, emphasizing insects, birds and mammals do as well. Nevertheless, she added, “the main vehicle that carries out pollination are bees.”
Asked about why we’re seeing a decline in the bee and insect population, and the need for artificial pollination, Mimran explained that there are several different reasons.
“Today researchers have found more than one reason why bees disappearing,” she said. Modern agriculture such as monoculture, which is defined as the practice of planting one species of plant, is affecting the bees. This includes acres upon acres of corn fields in the American south or almond trees in California. In both places they are just cultivated one thing, she explained.
“Bees need diversified foods and monoculture is something that makes them weak,” she said. “Another reason researchers have found is the great biological danger that varroa mite poses. This is a parasite that goes into the beehives, and it simply kills the bees, it kills the colony and it spreads diseases, which is causing bees to disappear.”
There is also hornets from Canada that hunt and eat honey bees, which are endangering them in North America.
“Herbicides and pesticides that are being used all over agricultural areas are also causing bees to be weaker,” Mimran said, adding that “researchers found residuals of both in beehives.”
She stressed that not all agricultural foods are dependent upon pollination.
“Grasses like wheat and barley… are dependent on wind pollination,” she said. “In many places throughout the world our food mainly depends on rice, corn and wheat cultivation, and this is something that is still safe and secure.”
“But,” Mimran pointed out, “just like the bees we also need food diversity, we need vitamins and minerals that comes from nuts, fruits and vegetables – all which are dependent on pollination by bees and insects.”
With the decline of bees and insects comes the decline of pollination, and this is where Edete comes in.
“The start-up was founded in 2016, after six or seven months of preparation,” she said. We really wanted to understand the economic and technical feasibility of our project.”
She said the idea first came to mind when the start-up’s CEO, Eylam Ran, was in a lecture given by a bee specialist.
“He was talking about the difficulties of pollination for avocados, the disappearance of bees and the necessity of insect pollination,” Mimran continued. “Eylam, being a very good engineer, wondered why there was no mechanical solution that could solve the dependency on insects for pollination,” especially because part of our food security depends on insects.
The four founders then came together to form the agritech start-up.
“We are all from agricultural backgrounds,” Mimran said. “I come from a family of farmers, so when Eylam was talking about pollination, I immediately had a personal connection. My grandfather was one of the first avocado farmers [in Israel].”
They opened their labs in Basmat Tivon, a Bedouin village in the North. “What we did, our approach, first started with developing something to disperse pollen across orchards, but in order to guarantee we also had to develop a process, which involved separating pollen from anthers.
“Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther, which is the male part of the flower to the female part where it germinates,” she said. “It is here that fertilization takes place and this is crucial when it comes to the production of seeds, fruits and vegetables.”
The system developed by Edete mechanically collects and extracts pure pollen from flowers, which can then be stored for more than a year while maintaining good germinability rates. The pollen is later applied to trees using a robotic pollination system, “dispersing optimal dosages of pollen on target flowers using an electrostatic charge so that it sticks to the highest part of the flower for direct pollination.”
The system is able to work throughout the day and night.
Last year, Edete announced that it had successfully completed field trials and plans to target the lucrative Californian almond market in 2022.
Mimran also highlighted that by storing the pollen for a year, “the problem of desynchronization can be overcome.”
She explained that for cross pollination to occur every orchard containing apples, avocados, almonds needs varieties of the same crop so that they can pollinate each other.
“If there is no variety, this leads to bloom desynchronization, which results in lower yields,” Mimran said.
She made it clear that they use dry pollen, adding that Edete “is trying to imitate exactly what nature does – we’re doing what the ‘postman’ does.”
Asked about what’s to come for Edete in 2020, Mimran said that the start-up will be conducting larger field tests.
Initially she her partners were conducting field tests on a few dozen full-size trees, but this year, they plan to do so in five acre fields both in Israel and in Australia.
“Last year we went to Australia and we were able to produce a bank of pollen,” Mimran said. “Now we have a pollen bank in Australia waiting there for next season... In the summer we’re going [back] to Australia.”
Although the almond blossom season “is so short, we’ve managed to double our efforts by going to the southern hemisphere, so we’re going to take polin bank created last year in Australia and do the pollination of five acres.
“It’s going to be a crucial year for us,” Mimran concluded.