What’s Wrong With This Picture
Bee Colonies in California
Bee rental fees for almonds have tripled between 2003 and 2007, yet bee numbers have gone down between 2003 and 2007 both in California and nationwide.
Its not for lack of trying that colony numbers haven’t increased – all beekeepers realize that almond pollination income is the only reason they can stay in business. Most are trying desperately to increase colony numbers, but with annual colony losses from 20 to 80% in a given outfit, many feel fortunate just to maintain the numbers they have.
Many beekeepers feel Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that you’ve read about in recent months has been around for a number of years but just hasn’t received the attention it received this year.
2008 Bee Supply
Will there be a shortage of bees again in 2008? No one knows, and no one will know until February. We’ve been in touch with all our bee suppliers in recent weeks and all reports have been good. We have 3 of the toughest months in beekeeping to go through before we know if colony strength will hold up. We have a cushion with all our beekeepers + a backup supply to insure that you get your full complement of strong colonies. A possible ban on imports of Australian bee packages (a virus associated with CCD is prevalent in Australia) will exert downward pressure on the bee supply (thousands of Aussie packages have been imported in recent years). Currently, wildfires are destroying numerous bee colonies in Southern California. The numbers of colonies lost won’t be known for another week or two.
Bottom line: we won’t know the bee supply situation until February.
Beekeepers face the same problems facing farmers when selling their products: low prices in spite of high prices in the grocery store. Beekeepers get about 85cents a pound for their honey, vs. $5 in the store (you can buy cheap honey but the quality is low – beekeepers call such honey “crankcase oil”.
Honey and Health
The honey industry is taking a cue from the almond industry and pushing the health aspects of honey. The 1st International Honey-Health Symposium will be held in Sacramento on January 8th.
UC, Davis Upgrade
The Laidlaw Bee Research Facility at Davis is underway and honey bee work at Davis got a shot in the arm when Sue Cobey, world-renowned bee breeder, joined the team (Extension Apiculturist, Eric Mussen, is the current designated “team”). UCD will hire a pollination biologist and possibly a molecular geneticist later this year or early next. I was privileged to be on an outside (of UC) advisory committee for the pollination biologist position and was impressed by both the quantity (25) and quality of the applicants. Whoever UCD chooses will be a top-notch individual.
The recent mapping of the honey bee genome provides great potential for improving the genetic makeup of bees (the province of molecular geneticists). Virus and pest resistance genes could be incorporated into the honey bee genome. All such work requires funding.
$1/colony of your almond pollination price this year went to bee research. We matched your dollar with one of our own (on about 33,000 colonies). The money was distributed as follows:
Project ApisM – $32,000.00
Laidlaw Research Fund – $32,000.00
Labor for Frank Eischen – $ 3,000.00
Project APISm is an independent bee research funding entity set up to tackle the myriad of problems facing the bee industry. Almond Board director (and bee owner) Dan Cummings heads the group and Chris Heintz (also associated with the Almond Board) is a consultant to the group. See www.projectapism.org for more information. To date, Dan has raised over $130,000 from growers and beekeepers.
Dr. Frank Eischen, USDA Bee Lab, Weslaco, TX, carries out significant almond-bee work in the San JoaquinValley every year.
You made your contribution to bee research. Ask your fellow growers to contribute to either APISm, 1750 Dayton Rd., Chico, CA 95928 or to the Laidlaw Research Fund, c/o Walter Leal, Entomology Dept., UC, Davis, CA 95616.
Abundant natural bee pasture is essential in maintaining strong, healthy bee colonies. A major contributing factor to CCD is declining bee pasture throughout the US. Urbanization is pushing beekeepers off long-held locations. In California, Montana and other states, baby boomers are building second homes in rural areas. Checkerboard enough of these houses in an area and nuisance complaints about bees become inevitable.
The Nature Conservancy is purchasing thousands of acres of pristine bee pasture throughout the US. Good for beekeepers, right? Definitely not as TNC does not want any non-native species (honey bees are not native to the US) on their holdings and as soon as they pick up a property, they ask beekeepers to relocate. Beekeeper please that TNC is creating a sanctuary for Africanized bees fall on deaf ears.
The corn-ethanol boom is putting more pressure on beekeepers, replacing clover and alfalfa (both excellent bee plants) with corn (a poor bee plant).
Most beekeepers will tell you that the three most important ingredients of a successful bee operation are locations, locations, locations. Many bee operations are brought and sold solely for the locations that come with them. Some beekeepers are retiring because they are losing locations.
Citrus Pasture – The One Bright Spot (for now)
California citrus is the one bright spot in the overall picture of diminishing bee pasture Citrus bloom provides abundant nectar (but little pollen) during the relatively short (2 to 3 week) bloom period. Valuable citrus-bee locations are now threatened as California Citrus Mutual is attempting to get rules implemented that would ban bees within 2 miles of certain mandarin varieties.
A few citrus growers still resent the full-bloom spray moratorium that was put in place years ago to protect bees, and residual animosity from the moratorium on the part of a few growers may be fueling the current debate. A 2-mile ban on bees would give growers carte blanche to spray thousands of acres of citrus during full bloom. Many citrus growers feel that the spray moratorium has improved their pest control program since petal fall sprays are more effective on thrips than full-bloom sprays. .
If the proposed 2-mile ban is imposed, all beekeepers will be affected and some will throw in the towel. Write or contact your representatives in Sacramento and tell them not to impose restrictions on bee locations in citrus areas.
See www.SaveTheCaliforniaHoneybee.org for more information.
We’ll be in Touch
As we get closer to bloom, we’ll contact you to coordinate bee deliveries with your orchard operations. Make an effort to provide passable roads for bee deliveries. If we can’t drive on your roads, we can’t deliver your bees.
Call us anytime for an update and to let us know how things are going on your end.
We appreciate your business.
Joe Traynor, Mgr.
Scientific Ag Co.
P.O. Box 2144
Bakersfield, CA 93303