November 21, 2024

How Nectar has the edge over spreadsheets in commercial beekeeping

In Product 6 min. read

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Written by
Tamara Laforest
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Inspired by my conversations with beekeepers, I’d like to share insights about the performance of Nectar vs. spreadsheets in managing a commercial beekeeping outfit. In doing so, I hope to convey the many possibilities offered by Nectar. In this article, I cover three of the most crucial concerns for commercial beekeepers: timely and accurate inventory numbers, hive traceability and daily planning.

Know your numbers when you need them

For commercial beekeepers managing tens of thousands of hives across the country, staying on top of their total number of hives, colony strength and hive equipment is challenging. The process of gathering this information from the field, reconciling it and entering it into a spreadsheet is lengthy and prone to errors. Reports from the field are numerous, coming from multiple locations and via different communication channels (text messages, pen and paper notes, or digital surveys). Processing dozens of reports requires several hours a week (from a single manager or collectively). Finally, entering all the information into a spreadsheet requires significant attention to detail and organizational skills. Given all of this, it’s easy to end up with a messy spreadsheet.

Nectar enables timely and accurate access to hive and equipment numbers. The platform has streamlined the process of gathering field data. Using the mobile Nectar app, workers report hive health or yard inspections in seconds - all the reports are standardized, transmitted through the system and automatically organized (by date, worker, regions, and more). The Manager’s Portal offers metrics and charts that are easy to read and allow beekeepers to make important decisions.

 

Nectar metrics on the whiteboard

 

I’ve learned from a beekeeper who I work with that timely information enables more business. He told me that, before Nectar, he dreamt of knowing the exact number of additional strong hives he had at the moment of dispatching semis to California. Knowing that number would have given him confidence to commit to sending more hives to pollination should a grower or broker request more bees. Because he didn’t have timely access to his number of strong hives, he had to be conservative and say no to additional pollination contracts.

 

Grading metrics trend

 

Nectar has liberated managers from low value tasks required to maintain spreadsheets, to focus on higher impact activities such as making beekeeping decisions that generate revenue.

Hive traceability using spreadsheets

A Midwestern beekeeper once told me that he saw two loads of hives arrive from California to his holding yards in Texas in starkly different health conditions. One group was thriving, while the other struggled to survive. The beekeeper knew the hives had been exposed to different environments during almond pollination, and that they had been fed and treated differently in the previous year. He couldn’t deduce the history of each group such that he could avoid repeating mistakes that led to unhealthy hives. Spreadsheets couldn’t help with tracking the location where the strong hives had been, how they had been kept, nor which crews had worked them. More importantly, he couldn’t identify what actions led to strong hives. 

 

Unfortunately, spreadsheets offer limited visibility into a hive's history in order to identify specific bee health outcomes. Because the data in spreadsheets is replaced every time a new value is entered into a cell, they don’t keep a trail of hive information. While some could argue that such data trails are possible with spreadsheets, for an operation with thousands of hives, that would require creating copious amounts of rows and columns and numerous tabs. I doubt commercial beekeepers can afford the time to build such records.This is another challenge addressed by Nectar.

Nectar’s digital reporting through its mobile app automatically creates a digital trail of information for each hive at the same time that a worker is reporting everyday work - no additional processes or effort are required. Navigating through Nectar’s Manager’s Portal and the mobile app, a manager can access the full history of an individual hive and its journey across the country in seconds. 

Because Nectar has reduced the cost and time required to gather, organize and process colony data, it has effectively enabled hive-level analysis at scale. This depth of data is required to access meaningful colony insights.

Daily Planning

Many beekeepers huddle with their crews in the morning and decide on a plan for the day. To do that, both crews and managers need to know what has been completed and what hasn’t. Spreadsheets help keep track of what has been completed but fall short when it comes to communicating work progress and indicating what needs attention. Typically, only the managers who edit the spreadsheets have a birds-eye view on work progress. Finally, creating effective data visualizations in excel or other spreadsheets requires higher training not common in the industry.

With Nectar’s mobile app, workers can see their completed work under a personal history section. They can also access the beekeeping history of all the yards in the operation through the same app. This feature is additionally useful when crews need to know what happened at the yards during another team's last visit.

To effectively communicate work completed, Nectar’s Manager’s Portal offers a color-coded visualisation called the last visit map. This map indicates where the yards needing attention are, and the colour codes (red, yellow and green) a range of days since the last visit (less than 15 days, between 16 to 30 or 30+ days ago). The digital whiteboard can be customized to show the interval of days between yard visits, the name of the last worker who visited a yard, and the last time a treatment was applied, among many other options.

 

Last Inspection Map in the Manger's Portal

 

All these visualization options are the result of commercial beekeepers sharing with us what information is most important to them that they cannot access using spreadsheets. The last visit map, for example, has been a favourite during honey flow because it helps beekeepers visit their yards with the frequency they want in order to bring and remove supers at the right time.

Providing managers with colour coded visualizations and workers with yard history on their own phones, Nectar has enhanced the communication of work completed between workers and managers to help them run more productive day planning huddles.

What’s next?

I hope that I made you eager to explore what’s possible beyond the use of spreadsheets. In future articles, I will continue to describe beekeeping situations in which Nectar is doing more for beekeepers than was ever previously possible.

Do you feel ready to transition away from spreadsheets?

Great! Please reach out to us, send us an email to aaron@nectar.buzz

About the author

Tamara Laforest

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