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Almond Grower Newsletter – January 12, 2011

2011 Almond Pollination

As stated in the December Bee Culture winter bee losses are now being tallied. Current indications are that losses will be high (20 to 30%) for most out-of-state bees, somewhat lower for California bees (10 to 20% although some were lost in December floods). Texas colonies that spent the summer in N. Dakota are having dwindling problems (15,000+ colonies).

Because California is pursuing a 7% tax on almond pollination income and because honey prices are relatively high, some out-of-state beekeepers won’t be back for almonds. There will be ample bee colonies available for almonds (as there is every year) but there will be a shortage of strong colonies (as there is every year).

You will be getting the same strong colonies you have received from us in the past because of our rigorous quality-control program.

Losing a Good Beekeeper

Although we have continuous contracts with our beekeepers (valid for the coming year unless cancelled by June 1) one of our long-time beekeepers cancelled his contract in November, 2010 to take on a grower that is paying $10/colony less than what we pay. In one of the 10+ years we worked with him, we rejected a load of his bees; he never complained at the time, but I’m sure our inspection program influenced his decision to leave us. He only brought us 400 of the 4,000 colonies he runs, but we got his best colonies.

Almond Pollination – A Community Effort

The most extensive almond-bee study was done in the 1970s by UC, Davis apiculturist, Dr. Norman Gary. Dr. Gary found that bees in orchards with strong colonies dispersed to orchards with weaker colonies where there was less competition for groceries. If orchards next to yours have weak colonies, your bees will be going there. Make sure your neighbors have strong colonies at the start of bloom. Counties are limited in the colony-strength evaluations they can do. There are independent inspectors; Denise Qualls is one: (510)209-2006.

Strong Colonies = More Almonds

A large almond growing concern (finally) hired a full-time bee person in 2009. He tightened their 2010 colony evaluation program and was able to get a token price increase for 2011 for beekeepers supplying strong colonies. He also compared yields on blocks with sub-standard bees to those with good bees and found that almond yields were significantly higher with strong colonies (surprise!). Look for this company to put more emphasis on colony strength in the future rather than giving paramount concern to price per colony.

Fungicides and Bees

Fungicides are not highly toxic to adult honey bees but can damage bee larvae if larvae are fed pollen containing fungicides. Try not to spray when bees are flying or when there is a lot of exposed pollen.

Pristine is especially harmful to larvae, as is Rovral. A successful Kern County grower applies no Pristine during bloom but saves Pristine for in-season applications against Alternaria (to avoid Pristine resistance).

Most growers monitor insect pests diligently to determine if a pesticide application is needed. Shouldn’t there be a similar criterion to determine when a fungicide application is warranted? A progressive almond concern applied minimal fungicides in 2010 (some blocks received none) yet crop yields did not suffer. Maybe they’re ahead of the curve.

$ For Research

$1/colony from what you pay us for almond bees is matched by $1/col. from our beekeepers, with the money going to bee research. In 2010 we rented 29,306 colonies that netted $58,612 distributed to: Project ApisM: $30,000; Frank Eischen: $25,000; Randy Oliver: $4,000.

Project ApisM funds a number of projects and was instrumental in funding the studies that implicate a virus-nosema interaction as the cause of CCD; check out their website, www.projectapism.org

Frank Eischen, a Texas based USDA scientist, has done and continues to do much almond-bee work.

Randy Oliver is a beekeeper/scientist that does seat-of-the-pants research from his Grass Valley, CA base. Randy works closely with government researchers and although his studies don’t conform to rigid experimental guidelines, they serve as a launching point for more rigorous studies. See www.scientificbeekeeping.com for more on Randy.

Border Problems (and the FF words)

One of our Colorado beekeepers had a load of bees held up at the border on a Thursday afternoon in November. The border person found an un-identified larva on the truck bed and told the beekeeper he couldn’t enter California until the bug had been identified as not being a small-hive beetle (small hive beetles are already endemic in CA, many of them imported in Australian package bees). A picture of the larva had to be photo-sent to Sacramento for positive ID. Beekeepers know not to get to the border past 2PM on Friday or they might have to wait until Monday if a suspect organism is found. Now its Thursday, due to Furlough Friday. By the time the beekeeper got clearance on Monday (no bug problem) his load of super-strong colonies had deteriorated to 2 to 3 frame colonies. This beekeeper hoped to pull himself out of red ink in 2011, but he won’t make it unless he is able to rent his weak colonies to a late-season order from a desperate grower. Situations like this are enough to turn a bleeding-heart liberal into a banner-waving Tea Party member.

More Rules

One of our CA beekeepers lost his warehouse to fire this summer. Insurance covered the loss, but getting and conforming to current permits costs thousands more dollars and months of delays. In contrast, N. Dakota beekeepers pay $20 or so for a permit and get right to work on building a warehouse. No wonder so many businesses are moving out of California.

North Dakota (and Canola)

Just as California is the bee capital of the world in February, N. Dakota is the bee capital in the summer, with some CA beekeepers making the trek to ND. There is an amazing one million acres of canola in ND and although canola honey is poor quality, canola pollen is very nutritious. When cotton was king in California, bees in our valley made a decent living from cotton flowers. Now that cotton acreage is way down, much of it now in almonds (including yours if you live south of Fresno) CA bees have a difficult time surviving our summer months. Irrigated canola probably doesn’t pencil out in CA, but its possible that beekeepers would pay part of production costs for canola that bloomed in August. If you do consider canola, don’t plant Roundup-Ready seed or you will initiate a long-term canola-weed problem.

We’re Ready When You Are

I’ll be in touch later this month to get an idea on scheduling bees and to coordinate bee deliveries with your orchard operations, or, give us a call anytime. I have two office phones:(661)327-2631 and (661)327-8101; if one is busy, call the other; if both are busy or don’t answer, call my cell phone (661)809-5551.

Sincere best wishes for a bountiful 2011.

JOE TRAYNOR