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Almond Grower Newsletter – May 28, 2010

2011 Pollination Prices and 2011 Bee Supply

Our 2011 prices will remain the same. Because of spot shortages of almond bees this year due to high winter losses, many beekeepers will be raising 2011 pollination prices. Colony Collapses Disorder (CCD) continues to plague many bee operations. Higher honey prices are causing some out-of-state beekeepers to re-examine the economics of almond pollination; some feel they can do better by concentrating on honey production. It takes significant supplemental feeding costs to provide strong bee colonies for almonds and sugar syrup is a major feed input. Higher sugar prices are putting the squeeze on beekeepers that use syrup to boost or maintain colony populations. Beekeepers that suffered heavy losses this past winter – the average loss was 32% — will be hard-pressed to make up their colony numbers. A 15,000 to 20,000 increase in bearing almond acreage will put further pressure on a limited bee supply.

Costs to Provide Strong Bee Colonies for Almonds

U.C. Extension Apiculturist, Eric Mussen, in his Jan/Feb. 2010 Newsletter gave the following annual costs to provide almond bees of varying strength:

4 frames: $120/colony. 6 frames: $150/col. 8 frames: $200/col. 10 frames: $220/colony.

A major cost input towards supplying strong almond colonies is supplemental fall-winter feeding. These feeds include both protein (pollen and pollen substitute) and carbohydrates (usually sugar syrup). Beekeepers can adjust their colony strength for almonds by adjusting their feeding costs. If they do not receive an adequate almond-rental price, they will cut feeding costs accordingly and hope that their bees meet their contract standard (or that their bees are not inspected). From a beekeeping standpoint it is not in a beekeeper’s best interest to have populous colonies in the winter (almonds bloom in mid-winter) because such colonies will consume expensive feed, both before and after almond bloom (unless the beekeeper has a flower source to go to right after almond bloom). It is normal for bee colonies to shrink to 4-frame strength in the winter; reducing colony populations during a period of flower dearth is nature’s way of maintaining a viable colony. Stimulative fall-winter feeding is only done to satisfy almond growers that demand strong bee colonies during bloom – during mid-winter. Put pressure on beekeepers to lower pollination fees and beekeepers will cut feeding costs – bet on it.

California Taxes on Out-of-state bees

California’s Franchise Tax Board is aggressively going after out-of-state beekeepers to get them to pay a 7% tax on their almond pollination income. Out-of-staters supply over half of the 1.3 million bee colonies needed for almonds (about half our bee supply comes from other states). Probably less than half of these out-of-staters pay CA taxes.

Starting this year, CA is requiring those that hire beekeepers from other states to withhold 7% of their almond pollination payment. We found this out too late to do so this year but we are requesting our out-of-staters to pay their CA taxes. Several have told us that they want a 7% increase in pollination prices; we have told them NO, but look for other beekeepers to raise almond fees by 7%.

Self-Fertile Almond Varieties

You’ve read about self-pollinating almonds – varieties that don’t need pollen from another variety to set a crop. Caging these varieties to prevent bee visitation shows that they will set a crop without bees, but that with bees they can set up to twice as many nuts – 4000#/acre vs. 2000#/acre. So don’t cross bee rentals from your operating cost sheet yet.

A big advantage of self-pollinating varieties (assuming kernel quality is acceptable) is that by planting them in solid blocks, you make all orchard operations, esp. harvest, easier and more effective. And they will set a crop if the bees don’t fly (I’ve never seen a year where our bees didn’t fly).

Grasshoppers may affect beekeepers

The USDA has predicted grasshopper invasions in the plains states this summer. If so, many bee operations will suffer from both spraying and reduced forage. If grasshoppers become a problem, you’ll see it on the evening news.

Getting the most for your pollination dollar

We put pressure on our beekeepers to deliver the strongest possible colonies to your orchards. Although our agreements our for 8-frame colonies we usually exceed this year –in and year-out as those of you that have looked at your bees with us can attest. It’s cost effective to pay 40% more for a hive that puts out 200% more workers.

Bee Research

As in past years, $2/colony of our almond pollination prices will be directed towards bee research, much of it going to Project ApisM. See www.projectapism.org for more on bee research.

- Joe Traynor, Mgr.