By Maritza Cruz

University of Vermont researchers are developing an app that could help farmers calculate the crop productivity and pollination benefits of supporting endangered bees. Philadelphia software company Azavea is developing the mobile and computer app.

Taylor Ricketts, University of Vermont bee expert, is co-leading the app’s development. Ricketts introduced the app at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Sunday, Feb. 19.

For example, farmers who want to plant wildflowers to nurture bees that pollinate their crops, would have to walk through fields, evaluate possible locations, take measurements and spend hours calculating costs, according to a University of Vermont press release.

The app calculates different scenarios for farmers by using aerial images of North America, allowing farmers to enter their addresses and assess the best option for boosting pollination in their area.

“You simply draw different options – from wind breaks to planting flowers or bringing in honey bees,” Ricketts said.

Farmers can compare different scenarios and choose which option has the best return on investment.

Peter Warren, entomologist and environmental horticulturalist, works at the University of Arizona Pima County Cooperative Extension as an urban horticulture agent.

Pima County has a wide diversity of bees and mostly small farms. Warren said this app would be helpful for large agricultural counties like Maricopa, Pinal and Yuma County which are the three Arizona counties highlighted at risk on the national map of United States wild bees.

Almonds are an important crop in California that need bees. They truck hundreds of boxes of honey bees out to the crops to pollinate them.

“If you didn’t have bees you wouldn’t be able to do that. We wouldn’t be eating almonds as much or they’d be extremely expensive because they’d have to do some other way of pollination,” Warren said.

Without bees our crops would take a devastating hit. According to a public service announcement from Whole Foods Market, pollinators are responsible for 1 in 3 bites of food humans eat.

Warren said there are other pollinators besides bees, but if bees are effected other pollinators will also be compromised.

He said it is hard to predict if this app will make a difference for bees nationwide, but he is optimistic in the science.

Lee Marsh, I.T. coordinator and applications programmer, develops tools, servers, mobile apps and websites at the USA National Phenology Network. He develops environmental apps that collect data for seasonal life cycles of plants and animals.

“Probably what I would say that would be an issue with this app is the same sort of issue that we deal with,” Marsh said.  “When you’re doing data collections, or anything that sort of encourages people to be working in the field where they may or may not have an internet connection, if you need to communicate with other online services it becomes an issue.”

The app is still in development, but both Warren and Marsh said they are eager to download it.