All Bees Released
All bees have been released from almond orchards. We will be removing our almond locations from county pesticide notification maps on March 19. Contact the specific county if you want notification past this date.
2015 Almond Pollination Season
Over all, the weather was ideal for both bees and trees this year. A cool spell at the end of bloom on the earlier-blooming varieties shut off the nectar flow, so bees didn’t heavy up as much as they did last year, but I haven’t heard any complaints from beekeepers. Growers feel they got good pollination, although the Nonpareil crop appears spotty. Nonpareil, the most popular variety in the state (about 35% of the total almond acreage) has never been a consistent bearer.
Almond Fungicides and Bees
Growers sprayed about the same amounts of fungicides this year as in past year, but far fewer applications were made during the daytime when the bees were active, due to cautionary statements put out by the Almond Board and by Blue Diamond. I’ve always felt that fungicides that are applied after petal fall – after all the pollen is gone from an orchard, and cannot be contaminated with sprays – were a minor concern, but this may not be true. Beekeepers that graft larvae from almond bees (to make queen cells) report problems (dying baby larvae) possibly from contaminated water that worker bees give to the larvae. Many Northern California queen breeders will graft only from colonies that are beyond their bees flying range from almonds, because of the problems they have experienced with grafts from almond bees. Eric Mussen gives a good overview of bee-fungicide problems in his March/April 2014 Newsletter (From The U.C. Apiaries) and concludes that “The best exposure to pesticides for honey bees is no exposure at all.” Hard to argue with that statement.
Adjuvants and Spreaders – A Problem for Honey Bees?
Adjuvants and spreaders (to make chemical sprays more effective) have been added to spray tanks for years, with no apparent adverse effects on bees. New “improved” adjuvants/spreaders are now being marketed and at least one such material has been shown to harm bees. Dr. Mussen has pointed out that some surfactants (used to spread spray materials on leaves, rather than having them bead up) can break down the exoskeleton of bees, allowing chemicals to penetrate inside of bees and cause damage. Certainly more work needs to be done to determine the hazards of these materials to bees.
Two west coast people provide much useful information to beekeepers via their newsletters: Fran Bach, secretary for the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) and wife of the late Jim Bach (Washington state apiarist) and Carlen Jupe, secretary of the California State Beekeepers Association (CSBA). Each of their regular on-line updates is packed with useful information that you don’t always see elsewhere; info that appeals to information junkies like me. Their newsletters go to their members, but you can contact them to get on their list – you may have to join their organization, but the membership fee is nominal and well worth it. I’ve always maintained — and beekeepers have also told me – that one tip, picked up from a newsletter or from attending a meeting can pay for the cost involved many times over. Contact Fran at firstname.lastname@example.org and Carlen at email@example.com Both Fran and Carlen spend far more time putting out their information than they are compensated for; their efforts are obviously a labor of love.
In 2014 we collected $2/colony ($1 each from growers and beekeepers) for bee research from the 36,482 almond colonies we rented. The funds were distributed as follows: Project ApisM: $51,700 for various projects; Frank Eischen $13,475, labor, etc. for bee-almond studies; Randy Oliver $8,000 for bee health studies.
Project ApisM has become the go-to place for any person or organization to donate funds for bee research thanks to the yeoman (yeowoman?) efforts of Executive Director Christi Heintz. If you haven’t already, check out the PAM website www.projectapism.org; lots of good information there. This year we rented 35,958 bee colonies to almond growers and will again contribute $2/colony for research.
Strong, Bad; Weak, Good (for the dollar, and thus for the almond grower)
Huge quantities of almonds are exported – to China, India and Europe. The current strong dollar makes all ag exports, including almonds, more expensive to these countries and depresses almond prices.
Movie Review: McFarland, USA
Great movie! Some of you have placed bees in almond orchards around McFarland (25 miles north of Bakersfield); now see The Rest of the Story.
Article Review: The War on Science
Catch the above article in the March issue of National Geographic (if you don’t have a copy, borrow one from an elderly person in your neighborhood). Topics in the article include GMOs, Climate Change and Evolution; the current neonic-bee debate is not included, although some on both sides of this issue might wish it had been. Immediately following this article is a story on the millions of Syrian refugees, including heart-breaking pictures of displaced children; makes one really appreciate living in the U.S.
Spread the News!
As long as the U.S. bee industry maintains a pool of 1.5 million bee colonies for almond pollination (and there is every indication that they will continue to do so) there will be NO pollination crisis in the U.S. (and there is NOT one now). Those “one out of every 3 U.S. crops requiring bees” will always be able to dip into the bee pool for almonds. The media publicity on bee problems has been a great boon for donations to bee research, so on second thought, better not “spread the news”; the “always” in the preceding sentence can be questioned, as some feel the “1.5 million colony pool for almonds” is tenuous at best; beekeepers have observed some of their competent peers go down in flames from one bee malady or another, and they wonder if they might be next. As for maintaining a pool of bees for almonds – the grand daddy of all U.S. crops that require bees – if every almond grower in California cut back by ½ colony per acre, there should continue to be ample bee colonies for almonds; one of our growers is down to ½ colony per acre and still cranks out great crops year after year.
The 8-frame Thing
As most of you know, our agreement with growers is that our bees will average 8 frames of bees, while our beekeeper agreements state a minimum of 8 frames; the latter is to discourage beekeepers from throwing in “dinks” to make an 8-frame average. (8 frames, for us, is a fall-back position in case a disaster occurs in the bee industry in a given year). Our biggest selling tool for growers is suiting them up, opening their (your) hives for them, and showing them what they’re getting for their pollination dollar; showing them that although our (your) bees may be more expensive, they can reduce per-acre pollination costs by cutting back on the number of colonies they use. In almost all cases, when we show bees to growers, they see 12 to 16 frame colonies (thanks, guys!) and when they see an 8-framer, it looks weak by comparison. If (when) we run across a dink or two, the grower may want to look at every single colony he is renting (and who can blame him?). We plan to add a penalty for dinks next year; Paramount Farms has such a penalty. Paramount beekeepers have averaged 12 frames the past 2 years (as have our beekeepers) and gotten paid $185 for their bees. In order to keep pace with Paramount we plan to raise our 2016 prices by $15/colony. I haven’t gone to a bonus payment (like Paramount has) because this would require 100% inspection of colonies to be fair to both growers and beekeepers and I feel that such an inspection would be too disruptive to bee colonies.
Our continuing drought is the number one topic for all California farmers and ranchers. The discouraging term mega drought is being heard more frequently as rain and snow continue to be AWOL. We’re running out of time for March rains, and even if April showers come our way, they may not be enough to bring the flowers that bloom in May. If the drought continues, look for a reduction in almond acreage and a consequent reduction in the demand for almond bees. Time will tell.
Quote of the Month
“MacIlvaine [Joe MacIlvaine, CEO of Paramount Farms] says that Paramount also plans to enter the honey business.” NPR, 3/3 or 3/4/15.
Those of you that read contracts or agreements before you sign them may have noticed the sentence in yours with us: “Beekeeper agrees not to rent bees to Scientific Ag clients for a period of three years after doing business with Scientific Ag Co.” We are deleting this sentence from all future and current agreements so cross it out and keep this letter as proof. Of course, I hope you stay with us but if you do make a deal with one of our growers, please make it for at least $200/colony, with $2/colony for bee research ($1 from the grower, $1 from you). I plan to be around for a while, so don’t write me off.
Thanks for your efforts this year, and every year. Quality beekeepers are, and will continue to be, the back bone of our organization.