Beekeeper Newsletter – April 11, 2016

2017 Almonds

We are making no changes in our 2017 almond prices.

There were spot shortages of almond bees this year and a few beekeepers were able to rent sub-par bee colonies at top-dollar prices. With honey prices slipping, many beekeepers are concentrating on increasing colony numbers in hopes of cashing in on high prices for 2017 almond bee rentals (it’s difficult to both make honey and increase colony numbers in a given year). There could well be a surplus of 2017 almond bees – or not.  The factors contributing to bee losses last fall and winter may not occur again.  Like every year, we won’t know what the 2017 almond bee supply will be until January.

With almond prices dropping from $4/lb to $2/lb, some growers, esp. those with expensive water, will have a tough  time breaking  even this year, even with what looks like a good almond crop state-wide.  March rains have helped fill Northern California reservoirs; not so much for the big San Luis reservoir near Los Banos, (upon which many San Joaquin Valley growers depend) because of the billions of gallons of water dumped in the ocean in the un-proven belief that this will help fish populations. Senator Diane Feinstein has called this dumping “inexcusable”. So far, over 600,000 acre feet of water that could have helped fill the San Luis reservoir have gone in the ocean – expected to reach 1.5 million acre feet later this year; most California crops require 3 to 4 acre feet of water per acre annually.

Fungicides and Bees

There continue to be reports of problems with bees after they have left almond orchards. These problems are not widespread, but are certainly of concern to the individual beekeepers affected. Hopefully, analysis of pollen and bee samples (currently underway) will shed light on the situation. If you feel your bees have been effected, file a report of loss with the suspect county (we can help you with this).  It has been shown that fungicides can increase nosema counts; Let us know if your almond bees are encountering nosema problems.

CAPCA  and  BMPs for Bees in Almond Orchards.

Most, maybe all, fungicide recommendations start with Pest Control Advisors (PCAs). The Almond Board put out a great one-sheet Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds that was widely distributed to growers, PCAs and beekeepers (at the December Almond meeting and at the November CSBA convention). We sent a copy to all our growers in January and most followed the BMP recommendations. This BMP sheet, and related information, is available at (or I can send you a copy).

The BMP sheet, referenced above, recommends night-time spraying of fungicides and to avoid spraying insecticides during bloom. IGRs (Insect Growth Regulators) are insecticides that may not affect adult bees (and therefore do not require a bee warning hazard on the label) but do affect bee larvae that consume IGR contaminated pollen. Gene Brandi, and others, are working to get the bee-larva hazard on IGR labels.

CAPCA (California Association of Pest Control Advisors) has not yet endorsed the Almond-Bee BMPs put out by the Almond Board. Consider writing them to urge them to do so: CAPCA, 2300 River Plaza Rd., #120, Sacramento, CA 95833. Check out their website for additional contact info.

Yves LeConte and Bee Culture magazine

There’s a fascinating story by M.E.A. McNeil on French bee scientist Yves LeConte in the April issue of Bee Culture. Quite a guy, and quite a scientist. LeConte will be a featured speaker at the Honey Bee Health Symposium at U.C., Davis on May 7th. In the same article, read why we rarely find fermented nectar in bee hives (and what causes it if we do).

In the same April issue (soon to be a collector’s item?) check out Jerry Bromenshenk’s article on infra-red cameras, Toni Burnham on mosquito spraying (a definite bee hazard) to control the zika virus, Stephanie Bruneau on the medicinal benefits of propolis, Sharon Schmidt on marijuana as a honey plant (forget it) – and much more – manna for bee-information junkies (and how come are there so many women writing about bees?).

Those of you that have subscribed to Bee Culture for a number of years may have noticed that editor Kim Flottum’s hair has gotten grayer, then whiter over the years (if the photos that accompany his monthly column are accurate).  Kim has obviously aged, but it is puzzling to me that Bee Culture has become correspondingly more lively and vibrant over the same stretch of time – I still haven’t solved this conundrum.

David Mendes  (what now, David?)

You are likely aware that Florida beekeeper Dave Mendes sold his entire bee operation to Paramount/Wonderful last year and is now, except for a few back-lot hives, out of the bee business. Those of you that have met Dave are aware that he is a high-energy individual, which, along with his negotiating skills, has attracted the attention of part-time Floridian, Donald Trump.  Don’t be surprised that if (when?) Trump becomes president he will announce that Dave will head up his negotiating team to re-work deals with Mexico, China, Iran, et. al: (“I wrote the book on Deals – by the way, one of the all-time greatest books – but this Mendes fellow will make deals like no one else – Trust me, you will see”).

Dave’s people skills, plus his inside-out knowledge of the bee industry makes him a natural as a D.C. lobbyist for the honey bee industry. After Dave  finishes shoring up the levees on his Florida compound, it’s difficult to see him taking life easy. Dave may become susceptible to Coach John Wooden’s advice as put forth in Bill Walton’s recent book, Back from the Dead: not to measure yourself by what you have done rather than by what you could or should have been able to do.

Merle Haggard – R.I.P.

Bakersfield icon, and native sun, passed away on his birthday, April 6th. In the early 1980s, Haggard moved to Palo Cedro in Northern California (queen bee territory) and was writing songs right up to the time he died – don’t know if any were about bees, or queen bees, but it’s possible. Haggard had a string of 38 No. 1 records. My favorite is Are the Good Times Really Over for Good? – with its dirge-like accompanying music. The title could apply to beekeepers if the self-fertile Independence almond variety comes to dominate almond culture, as many think; the title could also apply to almond growers, if water woes continue.

Worst Analogy of the Year

Re John Oliver: “The British comedian moved to the U.S. almost 10 years ago, and has since forged a career out of pillorying America’s worst political excesses and weaknesses. Yet Oliver has developed a deep affection for the country – even if it’s the kind of fondness he once compared to falling in love with a girl while you’re holding her hair back while she’s vomiting”  (from The Week, March 4, 2016.

Other Beekeeping Ambassadors

In addition to Dave Mendes, mentioned above, the bee industry is blessed with a number of articulate spokes persons – possibly surprising since in some circles beekeepers are looked at as taciturn, non-communicative loners (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Gene Brandi, John Miller, Zac Browning and Gordon Wardell come initially to mind, all spending many unpaid hours communicating a positive image of beekeepers to the “outside world” – there are a number of  others, including past presidents of state and national organizations. The bee industry needs all the help in can muster to get it’s cause and needs out to the general public.

Stay in Touch

Keep us posted on how you and your bees are doing – call us anytime for an update on this end. I know that no one can predict what their bees will look like in January, but give us as solid a number as you can as to how many almond colonies you will have for us, so that we can make plans for 2017 almond pollination. Top-notch beekeepers (that means you) are and will continue to be the backbone of our organization.