We are making no changes on our bee rental prices for 2017.
We are aware of the big drop in almond prices in recent months and that growers are looking at any and all ways to cut costs. In cutting bee costs, it is usually wiser to cut back on colonies per acre than on price per colony.
A recent study (Honey Bee Colony Strength in the California Almond Pollination Market) showed that 1.5 colonies/acre using 8+ frames of bees/colony is equivalent to 2 colonies/acre of 6-frame colonies. (UC Giannini Foundation, ARE Update, March/April 2016). If your insurance agent insists that you use 2 colonies per acre, show him/her this study (copy sent on request) or ask them to come with us when we look at your bees.
Due to excessive winter losses, there were spot shortages of almond bees this past season and some beekeepers received top-dollar prices for sub-par colonies. In light of this, and with the combination of increased almond acreage and current low honey prices, many beekeepers are increasing their colony numbers by dividing their colonies and adding a queen bee to the new colony. They are doing so in the face of reduced summer bee pasture and more competition from other bee colonies on existing pasture. As they do every year, most beekeepers will be feeding costly protein supplements to their colonies this fall and winter; these supplements are not nearly as nutritious as natural pollen sources.
In a 2009 study, How Much Does it Cost to Keep Commercial Honey Bee Colonies Going in California, UC Extension Apiculturist, Eric Mussen, gave a figure of $200 to $220/colony to provide 8 to 10 frame colonies to almond growers (see p. 3 of Dr. Mussen’s Jan/Feb 2010 Newsletter, From the U.C. Apiaries – copy sent on request). 2016 beekeeper costs are higher than in 2009.
The bee supply for almonds in 2017 (or in any given year) won’t be known until winter losses are tallied in January. It is at this time that colonies that died out, or are severely weakened, are sorted out or are rented to other almond growers at discounted prices.
Recommended Reading — Check out the June Issue of Mother Jones for a story on Lynda and Stewart Resnick — not a hit piece, as one might expect from this publication, but, on the whole, very complimentary to the Resnicks, the world’s largest almond grower.