Beekeeper Newsletter – July 27, 2015

2016 Season – – – – Grower sign-ups are going well. We lost one large grower (he purchased his own bees) and a 300 colony smaller grower. 2 growers haven’t committed until their 2-016 water situation becomes clearer. We anticipate signing up the remainder of our 2015 growers in the coming months. In spite of our $15/colony price increase, we have received only one or two complaints from growers on our 2016 prices. I attribute this to the quality of bee colonies that you provide and to our field reps, Bill Mathewson, Neil Trent and Jeff Jones who show your bees to our growers. Seeing the product they are getting, cuts down on, or eliminates grower complaints on price.

Keep us posted on how your bees are doing. If you think you will fall short of the number currently committed, give us plenty of notice. I plan to take care of our beekeepers first before taking on new people since you have done a great job for us over the years (and, many beekeepers don’t want to work with us, once they find out we inspect their colonies).

Almond Prices at Record Levels – – – – Almond prices are at or near $4/lb. Growers making 3,000#/acre, as many do, are doing well, if they have water. About 1/3 of our almond crop goes to China and India, 1/3 to Europe and 1/3 domestic. If the global economy, esp. China’s, stays healthy, almond prices should remain high. The Almond Board has done a great job of promoting the health benefits of almonds which has undoubtedly helped sales.

Total almond acreage is close to a million (860,000 bearing). More orchards are being planted than are being pulled, although many older orchards are staying in only because of current high almond prices. Look for a significant drop in acreage if almond prices drop.

The Drought Continues – – – — Our current drought has garnered nation-wide attention and has generated many articles. One of the better articles is Change of State by Dan Baum in the August Scientific American. Here’s a notable quote from that article: “The first law of hydrodynamics if that water flows toward money. As long as California has even a drop of water, it will doubtless run toward wealthy coastal residents.” Because our Central Valley is one of the few places in the world where almonds can be successfully grown, look for almond acreage to remain, or even increase, while acreage of other CA crops declines. A strong tropical storm from Baja dumped over 2” of rain from July 18-20 on parts of San Diego County, home to many CA bee colonies. Rainfall decreased going north, with Bakersfield getting less than 0.1”.

Self-pollinating Almonds – – – – – Roughly 10,000 acres of the self-fertile Independence variety have been planted and look good, so far. UC is currently testing other self-fertile varieties but they likely won’t be available for a few years. There’s lots of interest in these trees, mainly because a grower doesn’t have to have separate operations for each variety in an orchard. The economic life of an almond orchard is about 20 years. Growers will be reluctant to switch to self-fertile almonds if their current varieties remain profitable, but look for increased plantings of these varieties as the years roll on. Beekeepers over 40 years of age likely won’t be affected much by these new varieties, but those under 30 might be. And, these varieties still need about ½ colony/acre to move pollen a few millimeters (as opposed to the current 22+ feet).

BEEKEEPER INDEX (mostly true)

U.S. Acres: Corn, 90 million (140,000 sq. miles); Soybeans, 96m; wheat, 60m; Sunflower, 2m; Canola, 1.6m; Native clover, millions.

Life span of bees on various pollen diets: Almond (25% protein): 180 days; Canola (24% protein): 51 days. Sunflower (15% protein): 31 days; Blueberry & Corn: (14% protein): no data.

20 million: Canola acreage in western Canada

75: % of U.S. canola market supplied by Canada; 25: % supplied by U.S. growers.

15: % yield increase for Canola when bees are present.

99: % of U.S. canola grown from neonicotinoid-treated seed.

82 million: High plains acreage eligible for CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). 32m: acreage enrolled; 120,000: CRP acres enrolled in California.

5: Number of days after Elena Nino assumed her position as UC Extension Apiculturist and the National Weather Service predicted a record El Nino this coming winter.

5 to 10: lbs of pollen produced by an acre of almonds or alfalfa.

20 and 350: Number of flowers, respectively, needed to supply bees with a load of pollen from almonds and alfalfa. Time needed to collect a pollen load: almonds, ½ hour; alfalfa, 1 day.

20: % of US cattle, corn, cotton and wheat produced from acreage supplied by the Ogalla Aquifer. 35: % of Ogalla acreage that will run out of water by 2050. 80: % of Nebraska farmland that will still get Ogalla water 100 years from now.

4 to 9 million: almond blossoms per acre. Blossoms pollinated: 40 to 60%. Blossoms needed to set a 3000# crop: 1.2 million (25%). Pollinated blossoms (or nutlets) that drop because trees can’t hold them: 2 million (25 to 50+%).

60 lbs: estimated average 2015 honey production per colony for US beekeepers. For Ron Spears: 120 lbs.

Wonderful! Reaction of US beekeeper to the news that the Resnicks, master marketers, are getting in the honey business.

Cotton vs. Almonds in California ——— You don’t think of California as a major cotton state, but it once was a few years back, with around 2 million acres. Honey bees make a good living off cotton flowers in the summer, but CA beekeepers have a hard time finding cotton locations today – former cotton fields are now almond orchards. CA cotton acreage has dipped below 200,000 and CA beekeepers now find they must feed their bees in the summer for them to survive.

Monarchy Good! ——— The current interest by many “green” groups (and Monsanto!) in increasing the habitat for Monarch butterflies will greatly help honey bees. Widespread use of Roundup has drastically reduced once-ubiquitous milkweed plants on which Monarchs depend. Monarch larvae feed on milkweed leaves, and milkweed bloom makes great bee forage. Adult Monarchs also feed on milkweed bloom (and on other blossoming plants).

Pete Berthelsen, Pheasants Forever (Nebraska) – – – – -I had the opportunity to again see Pete Berthelsen’s presentation at the recent Heartland bee meeting (like the one he gave at the CSBA convention a couple of years ago) and was again very impressed by Pete’s knowledge of bee forage. Check out his site Pheasant habitat is also bee habitat (and vice-versa) and Pete has teamed up with beekeeper Zac Browning to promote bee and pheasant habitat, esp. on CRP-eligible land. Pete and Zac make a great team and have done a great job. There’s currently lots of interest in bee habitat with a number of other groups, getting involved: Project APISm, Xerces, Pollinator Partnership, et al.

Burpee Seeds is providing a million (non-GMO) seed packets to schools; their packets include 21 different varieties “to provide nourishment from early spring to late fall” for both honey bees and Monarch butterflies. Pete also stresses the importance of plants that bloom sequentially, rather than all at one time.

Crop Insurance Can Pay – – – – – – Some corn growers plant marginal ground (including bee habitat) to corn, then take out crop insurance based on yields in their area. They collect if their crop comes up short. I know of no almond growers that have employed this tactic.

Great New Book! – – – – – – Simple Smart Beekeeping by Kirsten and Michael Traynor (no relation) is an outstanding addition to the library of any beekeeper, whether a beginner or expert. It is thorough in covering all pertinent topics and, as a bonus, is beautifully illustrated. Kirsten received her PhD from Arizona State and recently joined the prestigious IBRA (International Bee Research Association) as editor of Bee World (a long-time great resource).

Two More Books – – – – The Road to Character by David Brooks, a soft-hearted liberal masquerading as a conservative. Short, readable chapters on a number of exceptional people. Duane’s Depressed by master story-teller Larry McMurtry, about a 62 year old man coping with life in a small Texas town where he has spent his entire life (as has McMurtry).

Correction – – – In a recent newsletter we said that Spencer Wernett dropped out of school to help his parents (Steve and Melinda) with their bees. Spencer did not drop out of school but got his BS in Biology – and may now be working on a Masters in beekeeping!

Stay in Touch – – Best wishes for a bountiful honey harvest. Call anytime for an update from us.

Joe Traynor