The development of new technological innovations for beekeeping has been increasing in the last few years. Private and public investment in the sector has led to increasing competition, giving beekeepers a vast selection of tools at their disposal. However, is the increase in the offer a reflection of a rise in demand by beekeepers? And, even more importantly, how is this increase in innovation perceived by beekeepers?
Firms and public authorities continue to invest in technology applied to beekeeping. One of such examples is the Internet of Bees (IoBee) project, integrating private firms, academy and beekeeping associations. Throughout its course, IoBee has had the chance to meet with representatives of the beekeeping sector and obtain their feedback. Meeting with key actors from different European countries, IoBee has gained significant insights.
Throughout different workshops and presentations, IoBee has surveyed key actors mainly from Italy, France, Spain and Romania, but also other countries. They first responded to the question “Do you think that technological innovation applied to beekeeping can help improve performance in the sector?”. With a majority of positive responses, surveyed beekeepers believe new technology can be useful. Although the majority showed optimism about the possibilities, some don’t see technology necessarily becoming a helpful tool. There is a focus on the potentiality of new technologies, but their development needs to be appropriately framed and applied.
The optimism on current and future developments also translates into the beekeeper’s trust in monitoring systems. They also responded if they would trust non-invasive monitoring systems enough to install them in their hives. Although a vast majority would allow them, not all of them would be immediately convinced. Several factors come into play here. First, beekeepers see the installation of monitoring devices as an increase in the risk of theft. Anecdotal arguments became particularly strong here. However, some see even further challenges in the proper functioning and a reduced need for maintenance of these systems. In particular, some beekeepers are wary of the amount of work that will be lost if monitoring systems fail or require regular maintenance.
One of the main challenges for innovators is to address the real day to day concerns of beekeepers. In general, but particularly during blooming periods, beekeepers are extremely busy. Besides, environmental stressors that increase risks to their bees, and a challenging market, amount to further pressure to ensure productivity. With particular care to achieve satisfactory yields for products related to their hives, beekeepers are unable to afford losing valuable time. The keywords here become reliability and durability.
The installation and use of hardware in the field might have different reasons. It could aim at improving productivity for the beekeeper, to monitor environmental issues, to advance research, or others. Regardless of the objective, innovations need to reduce the maintenance work of beekeepers as much as possible. Providing a more automatised and reliable tool could help increase the sector’s trust in new technologies.
There are certainly other factors to consider that make it harder for beekeepers to trust and install new monitoring hardware in their apiaries. For instance, price is another real aspect that restricts access to new technologies. The cost of the equipment powerfully shapes the capacity and willingness to invest in new technologies. Therefore, it limits the immersion of innovation into the sector, leaving practices based on new technologies aside.
Given current perceptions and lack of accessibility, it makes sense that 88% of respondents did not have any experience with monitoring systems in their colonies. Besides, of the few who had employed monitoring devices, a majority rated their experience as average. The sector still expects further developments since word of mouth continues to point towards the difficulties and the deficiencies of monitoring systems.
When asked about the potential value of projects like IoBee for the future of the sector, beekeepers give, for the most part, a favourable opinion. Nevertheless, these type of projects, just as with the technological innovations themselves, require the proper steering. They need to consider the real conditions and practices in the field. If projects appropriately take previous observations into account, they would be able to achieve a new status among the perception of beekeepers.
IoBee has been working to tailor its developments to these perceptions and claims of critical players in the beekeeping sector. An essential aspect of the project has been the creation of two-way communication channels with beekeeers. Throughout active participation in beekeeping events, fora, and collaboration of beekeeping associations for field tests, the project now counts with direct feedback from the sector. The outstanding lesson is that projects must consider the real-world conditions of beekeepers, not only to improve the sector’s trust in specific developments but even on innovation itself.