Can Drones Replace Honeybees?
Can Drones Replace Honeybees?
  • 김태완 기자
  • 승인 2023.12.29 14:20
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Over 18 billion honeybees have disappeared nationwide in recent times due to various factors, including climate change, resulting in significant damage to beekeeping farms. Additionally, it is expected that crops which rely on honeybees for pollination (the process of pollen transferring from the anther to the stigma of a flower), such as fruits and vegetables, will also suffer significant losses.

In such a situation, there have been attempts to use drones for pollinating fruit trees. This spring, news emerged through the media about a pilot project in fruit farms in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province, and Seosan, Chungcheongnam Province, where drones were used for artificial pollination. The decline in the number of honeybee populations has been a longstanding issue, with causes attributed to factors such as pesticide use and climate crisis. Drones are now being considered as a potential solution.

The use of drones in agriculture is not a new concept, and they have been utilized in various roles, including pesticide spraying and farming practices such as direct-seeded rice cultivation and Italian ryegrass cultivation. However, the pros and cons of using this technology are clear. There is an ongoing debate as to whether addressing the current issues in farming is a top priority, or drone usage should be restricted out of consideration for long-term environmental factors.

In the current landscape where drones are being used in various fields, the question remains: Can drones truly replace honeybees?

-Drones Can Not Be Bees

Drones can temporarily perform the role of honeybees, but they cannot replace real bees. While drones used for pollination have their advantages, associated risks also exist.

From a productivity perspective, the outcomes of current pollination by drone are uncertain. It is said that the results of this year’s pilot project will decide the course of the program’s expansion. But regardless of its success, we cannot overlook the potentially negative impact on the environment caused by drones. We need to consider whether this program will be eco-friendly. From an economic perspective, using drones to pollinate flowers has inefficient aspects. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 71 out of the top 100 crops worldwide, which account for 90% of the world’s food, depend on pollination by bees. Among humans, drones, and bees, only bees can meet the following requirements simultaneously: working with low labor hours, performing sophisticated tasks, and generating no industrial waste. While the initial cost farmers currently pay for this pilot project is 500,000 won (US$381.97), the cost will likely increase after the efficiency of drones is proven. Considering the prices used for the purchase, development, maintenance, and disposal of drones, using drones for pollination purpose can be much more costly in the long term. Furthermore, drone usage for pollination may lead to increased pollution. Eventually, humans are to pay for the negative effect of drones in the future. Lastly, relying on drones may affect our way of problemsolving. In the future, we will increasingly witness more species going extinct. If we use technology as a replacement for living creatures whenever the problem comes up, we will teach ourselves that our lives can also be replaced by technology. Using drones for pollination instead of honeybees is just a temporary measure. Drones cannot become bees. However, when we consider the reality of labor shortages and aging in many farming communities, the use of drones may be inevitable. Hence, it is crucial to use drones temporarily while implementing safety measures for long-term negative impacts. Ultimately, for a long-term solution, we have to make a decision on which the ecosystem is reflected.

-Drones can replace honeybees

If honeybees were to disappear, many of the fruits and vegetables we consume would gradually vanish. Countries worldwide are making efforts to establish honeybee habitats and regulate pesticides that pose a threat to bees. It's true that efforts to restore ecological harmony rather than relying solely on science and technology are needed. However, in the current scenario where honeybee populations continue to decline due to environmental pollution and climate change, we may need to find something to replace the role of honeybees. And drones could be a solution.

The critical issue arising from the disappearance of honeybees is the process of pollination. If drones can replace honeybees, beekeepers can significantly reduce the effort of harvesting honey, especially in the face of aging populations and labor shortages. Performing pollination manually is not only time-consuming but also an inefficient and costly process. Drones, when used for pollination, offer the significant advantages of faster work and reduced costs.

Additionally, some flowers grow in extreme environments, and drones can operate in such conditions, helping protect the flower ecosystems in these regions. Drones can also be used to perform research and educational activities related to flower pollination, aiding in environmental science and agricultural research while serving as a learning tool.

There are already cases of drones replacing honeybees in countries like the United States and Japan, where the decline of honeybee populations is a significant concern. Farmers in these regions are using drones as substitutes for honeybees and are researching and implementing drone technology for crop pollination.

It's important to note that the use of drones to replace honeybees is still in its early stages, and they cannot entirely replace the essential role of honeybees. However, drone technology can serve as an auxiliary tool to address issues stemming from honeybee shortages or declines in agriculture and environmental conservation fields.

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