HiveLend Seeks to Connect Beekeepers and Farmers Online

We’re firmly in the era of the Uberization of Everything, and even the slow-to-digitize agricultural industry is getting in on the trend. HiveLend, the Ann Arbor, MI-based startup that won Ann Arbor SPARK’s Best of Bootcamp honors in May, is seeking to help mitigate the ravages of colony collapse disorder (CCD) by connecting farmers and beekeepers through Web-based software.

Nicholas Zajciw founded the company after he dabbled in beekeeping and saw an opportunity. He wanted to raise a little extra cash by renting out his hives, but cold-calling farmers and attending beekeeping club meetings proved to be an inefficient and ineffective process. “I’m trying to bring the pollination industry into the 21st century, and I wanted to see if hobbyist beekeepers could pay for their hobby by renting hives to farmers,” he said.

Over 100 different crops in the United States rely on bee pollination to thrive. Zajciw said the market for commercial pollination in the U.S. is roughly $660 million, though he believes the market is “larger than we know.” Because the number of hives has been steadily decreasing due mostly to CCD—the mysterious phenomenon that causes bees to abandon their hives (a 2007 New Yorker article explains the issue brilliantly)—farmers are more dependent on commercial pollinators than ever.

Some beekeepers with healthy hives stack their bees in the back of a truck and drive around the country, chasing the harvest of bee-dependent crops and offering their services for a fee. The almond harvest in California is almost entirely dependent on bee pollination, requiring more than half the nation’s commercial bees to successfully complete the harvest; in Michigan, blueberries and cherries are 90 percent dependent on bees.

The price of renting a hive varies, Zajciw said. In California, one might go for $150-$200, while in Michigan, the price is closer to $50-$80. “It depends on the crops and the volume,” he said.

Farmers and beekeepers can use HiveLend’s proprietary algorithm to find each other, and Zajciw said the platform streamlines the negotiation process. HiveLend has integrated with PayPal, so farmers can also use the website to pay for the bees they rent. The company makes its money by taking a percentage of each transaction.

The four-person HiveLend team has several goals: to increase communication between farmers and beekeepers, promote sustainable agriculture, decrease paperwork, improve crop yields, and reduce travel time. Zajciw, a University of Michigan student studying environmental science and history, is preparing to launch publicly soon, and, in the meantime, he’s asking interested farmers and beekeepers to sign up for the company’s beta test through the HiveLend website.

“Beekeeping has a role in our food system,” he said. “The benefit we deliver adds sustainability and stability.”

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