Arizona Technology and Innovation:Artificial Pollination

More from this show

Pollen-Tech is an Arizona State University-based company offering a spray that spreads pollen on plants. The idea came from an MBA student’s business plan. Pollen-Tech won a grant through ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and is based at ASU’s SkySong Innovation Center and the MAC6 manufacturing incubator in Tempe. David Wade, CEO of Pollen-Tech, will discuss his company’s product.

Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on Arizona technology and innovation looks at Pollen-Tech, an ASU-based company that spreads pollen on plants through a spray-on solution. Pollen-Tech is based at ASU's SkySong Innovation Center and the MAC6 manufacturing incubator in Tempe. David Wade joins us now. David Wade is Pollen-Tech's CEO, good to see you. Congratulations on your success. Basically taking bees and putting them out of business. What's going on with this?

David Wade: Thank you Ted, well we aren't trying to put beesout of business, but we want to give them a little bit of assist.

Ted Simons: And it is a spray on solution, give us more information here.

David Wade: What we have is the technology that uses 100% pure natural pollen. We harvest the pollen from whichever crop that we're going to be applying it to. And so -- but what we've done is we've developed a mechanical system using a pollen slurry, a liquid that we put the pollen into that protects it and helps it do better at pollinating and we spray it through an electrostatic sprayer, which helps it find its way to the stigma of the flower.

Ted Simons: How did you find a solution that doesn't compromise the pollen, that keeps it there but doesn't mess around with it?

David Wade: Well, through the last 20, 30 years there have been different groups trying to find ways to pollinate plants. If you go back in agriculture history a little bit, a few thousand years, four or five thousand years, you have people starting to control the watering of agriculture, and a tremendous increase from that. In fact, our agriculture here in Arizona would have a very difficult time without irrigation. We're using the systems of the hobo camps for example here in the Phoenix valley that was kind of a first wave of advancement or technology in agriculture. And then the next one happened fairly recently in history, not thousands of years, but fertilizing plants. The pilgrims were taught how to fertilize, to throw fish in there and some corn in there, and things like that, that the stories we all learned in elementary school were pretty good. But that increased the ability for crops to grow, because the -- they had the nutrients they needed. We kind of look at this technology as a third wave, because now the limiting factor, one of the major limiting factors on how much a plant can produce is how much it gets pollinated.

Ted Simons: And are there certain plants that you focus on, certain plants that do better with this system than others?

David Wade: Yes, there are. Out of all the food that you and I eat and the world eats about one-third of it is pollinated by insects. And that's about 270-280 billion dollars' worth of food a year. But some of it is 100% dependent on pollination, for example almonds. Almonds are the largest export crop agriculturally for California, about $4 billion crop a year. And it's 100% dependent on bees to pollinate, because an almond tree has to be pollinated by a different variety of almond tree, and the bees have to carry the pollen from one flower in this tree to another one. If it carries to it another flower on the same tree or another flower of a similar variety, nothing happens.

Ted Simons: Bad bee.

David Wade: Yeah, well the bee doesn't know better. But if it goes across the row to the different variety, cause they plant different varieties in different rows, then you get almonds. And so with our process, we can give the farmer a whole lot more control over that pollination process because the farmer knows what kind of varieties he has and he can spray the pollen that that particular group of trees needs.

Ted Simons: How often do you need to spray?

David Wade: Well, pollination happens when whatever crop is flowering. If you're out in the almond orchard, for example, it's beautiful, it's almost like snow, the trees have about 65 or 70,000 flowers per tree. It's just gorgeous. But you only have to spray when those flowers are open, because the flower attracts the bee, and the center part of the flower, that little stigma, is where the pollen needs to go to. So when the flowers open and the stigma is receptive, well, we take the tractors up and down the rows and spray, we can do it once, twice, sometimes three times. It depends on the crop. But normally for almonds, for example, it's twice.

Ted Simons: Yeah I was wondering how as far as frequency, making sure you got it done without -- and again, if I'm buying these almonds, I got environmental concerns here --

David Wade: It's the same pollen the bee is transferring, it's 100% natural, it's no genetic engineering or anything.

Ted Simons: Let's -- What's the cost? And compare the cost to buying a bunch of bees.

David Wade: Well, that's been kind of interesting, because since about 2004, there's been a large amount of bee die-off throughout the world. It's become a real problem. And so costs on renting the number of hives that you need -- I'm going to use almonds again if you don't mind as an example. Has gone from about $50 per acre to about $370 an acre to rent the two hives that you need to have to pollinate that many almond trees. And so when you have 850,000 acres of almonds, like they do in California, and you have to rent two hives per acre, that's a lot of hives. It's $1.6 million hives. So the price has gone up tremendously. They even were importing bees from as far away as Australia last year to just get enough hives to do the job.

Ted Simons: My goodness, it sounds like you've got quite the operation going. Congratulations on your success and we hope to hear more about you in the future.

David Wade: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Thursday on Arizona Horizon, we'll hear from the author of a book that says the term sustainability is overused and needs clarification. And we'll learn about a promising new type of pediatric brain surgery. That's Thursday evening 5:30 and 10:00 right here on Arizona Horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

David Wade:CEO, Pollen-Tech;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
aired May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: