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Almond Grower Newsletter – December 15, 2000

2001 Season
We’re ready when you are. Most growers are progressing well with winter work. If you plan on applying a dormant insecticide (more and more growers are cutting back here) please allow plenty of time for materials to dissipate before we start placing bees.

Logistically it takes an individual beekeeper 2 to 3 weeks to move all his colonies to almond orchards. Dormant sprays should be on by no later than Feb. 1 (Jan. 15 if you have the Sonora variety; we’ve seen Sonora bloom in late January in recent years) Prod your neighbor to finish his dormant spraying in a timely manner.

Our Almond Bee Supply
Our bee supply, including back-up, is good. We’re currently going through the usual December-January numbers game – where our supply fluctuates according to beekeeper problems. In recent weeks, 1 beekeeper sold out (his bees will go to Northern California), 1 beekeeper’s numbers dropped in half (his mite control didn’t hold up) and 1 beekeeper declared bankruptcy. (3 beekeepers have taken part or full-time jobs to pay the bills).

This drop-off in numbers during the winter is normal and this year we have a better back-up supply than last year. Our ability to draw from a large number of beekeepers gives our growers a tremendous advantage in getting a consistent product (strong bee colonies) each and every year. If a beekeeper is having problems, his problems don’t become your problems – we simply get bees from another source.

We’re proud of our 20+ year record of on-time delivery of a quality product.

Overall Bee Supply for Almonds
The bee supply for almonds is much improved over last year. Last year, there were heavy bee losses to the varroa mite because the only effective chemical, coumaphos, did not get registered in time for many beekeepers. (the ”old” material, fluvalinate, has lost it’s effectiveness). Although some individual beekeepers continue to have mite problems most have mites under control (if they can afford the coumaphos strips: 2 strips per colony are requred at $1.65 per strip; strips are only effective for a few weeks and can’t be used during a honey flow and can’t be re-used; most beekeepers use strips twice yearly).

There will be more bees coming in from out-of-state and many beekeepers have increased their colony numbers solely for the almond pollination market. Word of this year’s bee shortage for almonds spread quickly through the beekeeping community and many beekeepers geared up to cash in on it for 2001. With low honey prices, some beekeepers decided to increase their colony numbers (by dividing their colonies) rather than make honey (the energy that bees devote to making honey is channeled into making more bees).

Last month, Paramount Farming informed their west-side beekeepers that 4000 acres of almonds scheduled to be pulled out in phases, would be pulled out this winter. This left 8000 bee colonies looking for a home (most, but not all of these colonies have found a home)

The overall health of the bee industry is poor (see accompanying articles) primarily due to low honey prices. High fuel costs are also adversely affecting beekeepers’ bottom line. Almond pollination is the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture for beekeepers. With low honey prices, almond pollination attracts beeekeepers like an oasis in an economic desert. There may be ample numbers of beekeepers around that oasis this coming year, but some will die of thirst before the year is out.

Bee Supply for Coming Years
The future bee supply for almonds does not look nearly as good as for this year. Colony numbers nation-wide will likely continue to decline, while almond acreage will continue to increase. The current large-scale pulling out of wine grapes (and apple orchards on a smaller scale) leaves more space for almonds – almonds are one of the very few ag commodities that have not been adversely affected by global competition.

A healthy almond industry is dependent on a healthy bee industry. The short-term gain of getting almond bees at the lowest possible price can be more than offset by the long-term loss of beekeepers.

Notes from the Dec. 7th Almond Conference
Stanislaus county farm advisor Roger Duncan found that calcium sprays (calcium nitrate and calcium chloride) reduced bud drop, a bacterial disease. Calcium has also been shown to reduce fungal diseases. Some growers will be trying calcium materials to control bloom-time diseases.

Vito Polito compared flower development of 3 varieties (Nonpareil, Carmel and Butte) and found that flower initiation was significantly later in Nonpareil. Flower development was complete prior to harvest in Carmel and Butte, but not until after harvest in Nonpareil. Flower development in Nonpareil is still going on when trees are subject to the most water stress (at and shortly after harvest). This could explain the inconsistent flower production of Nonpareil (which in turn, leads to inconsistent yields).

Eric Mussen, U.C. Apiculturist, showed data that strongly implicated captan, rovral and ziram in bee decline. Fungicides, esp. these 3 fungicides, should be applied when bees aren’t flying. If possible, fungicide sprays should also be avoided when flowers are producing significant amounts of pollen (bees can take treated pollen back to the hive and captan has been shown to reduce pollen tube growth).

Blue Orchard Bees
You’ve probably read about the blue orchard bee (BOB) in farm publications over the years. The BOB is a pollen collecting, solitary bee that is more effective than the honey bee for 2 reasons: it works at cooler temperatures and collects pollen exclusively. 250 to 500 female bees per acre are recommended and at current costs of about 35¢ per bee, honey bees look like a bargain. Growers using this bee, however, are hoping to expand bee populations so that eventually bee costs will not be recurring costs.

At least 5 Kern county growers will be trying the BOB in 2001. Should you want to observe this bee in action at bloom time, give us a call.

Taking Credit for ”good times”
The Democrats like to take credit for our current economic boom (farmers excepted) but one person has estimated that 30 or so years ago, consumers spent about 33% of their disposal income on food vs. about 9% today. The difference, plowed into buying “stuff”, accounts for the nation’s current prosperity (again, farmers excepted).

Season’s Greetings
Your patronage over the years, in spite rough economic times, is greatly appreciated. Have a Merry Christmas and we hope that you enjoy a prosperous 2001

Joe Traynor, Mgr.

SCIENTIFIC AG Co.
P.O. Box 2144
Bakersfield, CA 93303