Beehive data creates buzz with farm-to-table technology

Family-run apiary partners with software firm and University of Manitoba to develop tech-based solutions

Determined to meet new standards for food traceability, head apiarist Allan Campbell sought a technology-based solution to improve record keeping and management of his entire beekeeping operation.

Allan turned to Bruce Hardy, CEO of Winnipeg software company Function Four, for his expertise in software-based records management.

“When Allan approached us with this project, we saw a great opportunity to expand our expertise into agriculture. Farm-to-table in food production requires a level of accuracy in record keeping that is challenging for beekeepers to adopt, but that was well-suited to our area of expertise” explains Bruce.

His team set out to develop remote record keeping software to help Durston Honey Farms meet farm-to-table standards.

A complex challenge

However, the project proved to be challenging in ways that took it beyond the original scope.

Allan needed to track dozens of in-hive and environmental factors that affect honey production, adding new components to the record keeping software that did not yet exist.

They turned to Professor Cyrus Shafai and a team of four Mitacs Accelerate interns from the University of Manitoba’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Working in tandem with Function Four, Professor Shafai’s graduate students are developing specialized sensors to be installed directly into the hives.

Once installed, the sensors will track bee population statistics, hive temperature, hive weight, and more. Data collected is accessible by the beekeeper from hundreds of kilometers away, and can be used to make decisions about honey harvesting and hive management.

Coupled with the record keeping software produced by Function Four, the entire apiary management system will help Durston Honey Farms to get ahead of the curve on farm-to-table honey production.

A winning collaboration

Durston Honey Farms isn’t the only one to reap the rewards. The interns have gained a new perspective that is helping them in their career development. Professor Shafai explains:

My students are seeing how the client wants the product to be, but also learning the ‘why.’ They are learning very practical aspects of the technologies to meet their specific needs. This is a different kind of education, and it exposes them to new ways to approach their own research.”

Bruce Hardy speaks of the impact of the collaboration on Function Four:

“Working with the university on this project through Mitacs Accelerate has taken us beyond our original goal of creating products to expand into a new market. In fact, the knowledge we’ve gleaned has helped us to improve our core business services so we can better serve all of our clients, including Durston Honey Farms.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and Research Manitoba for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan.

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