Almond Grower Newsletter – Oct. 10, 2006

2007 Almond Pollination
As you know, we made a $20/colony price increase for the 2007 pollination season. We set our price in June each year based on what we feel the bee supply will be in January, so we operate with a significant handicap. Our 2007 price increase was based on 2 factors: more demand (due to increased acreage); reduced supply (less out-of-state bees). What we didn’t factor in was the drought that hit Midwestern bee states (esp. S. Dakota) causing significant bee colony losses.

We set our price in June to make it easier for us to plan for the coming pollination season (our beekeepers need ample lead time to supply strong colonies) and to give growers a figure to plug into their annual budgets. Most beekeepers wait until November or later to set prices since in recent years it has been beneficial for them to do so (the 2006 season was an exception). This year many beekeepers feel that pollination prices will rise after November as growers become aware of industry problems. The enclosed article 2007 Almond Pollination Forecast by respected Colorado beekeeper Lyle Johnston, gives more information. See also an article by CA beekeeper Randy Oliver in the October American Bee Journal which can be accessed at

With the current supply-demand situation, it’s a sellers market for bees and will only become more so as bearing almond acreage increases in the coming years. Unfortunately there is not a corresponding increase in bee colony numbers as beekeeping still doesn’t pencil out for most beekeepers.

Many, maybe most beekeepers would rather rent field-run bee colonies for less than $100 each rather than 8-frame colonies for $160. With the demand for almond bees in recent years, our main problem has been getting beekeepers that agree to jump through our colony inspection hoops – they figure they can do just as well with less scrutiny elsewhere.

Aussie Bees
You’ve read about 3# and 4# package bees from Australia being rented for $100 to $125 each. This price has essentially put a floor on almond pollination prices since 3 and 4# packages won’t make more than 5 or 6t frames of bees (see accompanying article on the USDA study of Aussie bees run this year). If Aussie packages received extra care and feeding in Dec.-Jan. they could come up to pollinating strength (8+ frames) in February. One big advantage of Aussie package bees is that they start our free from Varroa mites (Australia is varroa-free as of this writing) and beekeepers report that Aussie bees look great in May.

Honey Prices – The Goldilocks Effect
Low honey prices are bad for almond growers as they suppress bee colony numbers. On the other hand, high honey prices can also hurt almond growers since out-of-state beekeepers figure they don’t need almond pollination but can make it on honey alone (as they historically have). $1.10/lb is about the break-even price for honey. Last year, prices dropped below $1/lb. They are now around $1.25/lb (due to a short crop in the U.S. and worldwide) – not too high, not too low, but just about right for almond growers.

POM – Wonderful!
Ask our growers what’s the biggest advantage of renting bees from us and many will reply: Peace of Mind (POM).

Because we work with over 40 bee suppliers, individual problems from any one supplier – and believe me, even the most reliable supplier can and will have problems in a given year – can be offset by securing bees from another supplier.

Every year we are backing and filling our supply list, right up to bloom time. Some of you have asked me why you see a different beekeeper on your ranch in a given year – wouldn’t it be easier to assign the same beekeeper each year? If every one of our beekeepers came up with consistently strong colonies each and every year (and this was generally the rule 20 years ago) our job would be a lot easier. With current mite problems plaguing the bee industry, it’s a crapshoot as to what colony strength will look like in February.. We man the phones 24/7 during January, continually juggling supplies, to achieve our goal: to place the strongest colonies possible in your orchard.

Sleep – Get More
Every year, thousands of hours of sleep are lost by almond growers, worrying about their bee supply during the days (and nights) leading up to almond bloom. Will I get good bees? Why doesn’t my beekeeper return my calls? What’s happening?

Below are results of a study we co-sponsored:


Our Growers
State Average

*study by Stanford Sleep Institute reported in May issue of Sleep Journal (
**Alan Scroggs initially reported 30 hours of lost sleep but further inquiry showed this was due to concern over scheduling fungicide sprays.

Loss of sleep can be costly by causing poor decision making in all phases of farm management and by triggering senseless arguments with friends and loved ones.

Small Hive Beetle
Small hive beetle (SHB) is a recent noxious pest of honey bees. Like tracheal mites and varroa mites, it started off in Florida (a few years ago) and has now been found in several almond areas of California. Two truckloads of bees were turned back at the CA border in September due to SHB. The bee industry is divided into two camps: those that feel SHB is already widespread in CA – that there should be no restrictions on bees coming in – and those that feel we should not allow any loads with SHB in CA. A compromise position is to allow SHB in but to treat hives after they are set down in CA. For the latest rules, check with (click on the bee logo).

$ for Research
$1.00/colony of your 2007 almond bee bill will go to research (vs. $2/col. in 2006). One researcher that $1 million will solve many bee problems; over a million bee colonies are rented to almond growers each year.

Time is Money
U.S. costs in Iraq every 6 minutes: $1 million. ($246 million every day; $100 billion in 2006).

Yellow Tin Can Lids
Those yellow tin can lids on the corners of your orchards guide our beekeepers in foggy weather. Please don’t remove them.

Fall zinc spray
That fall zinc spray may not be much of a nutritional boost on mature trees but some growers feel it makes pruning easier (and may increase chilling hours) and it may reduce diseases by knocking off inoculum-laden leaves prior to winter rains

Call Anytime
We’ll be in touch as bloomtime approaches. Call us anytime for bee information.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.

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