Our 2007 prices will be $20/colony higher than this year in spite of the fact that there appeared to be an ample supply of bees this year (see enclosed sheet showing late classified ads for bee rentals).
The reason for what some have termed a “glut” of bees this year is that beekeepers all over the U.S. heard of the “Great Bee Shortage of 2005″ and that almond growers were paying top dollar for bee hives whether that hive contained 2 frames of bees or 10. Word also got out that thousands of 3# packages of bees from Australia were being rented for $100 and most (or all) beekeepers know that a 3# package of bees won’t cover more than 5 or 6 frames of bees at best.
Almond growers became aware of the ample supply of bee boxes they started taking a closer look at what was inside those boxes; some hired independent inspectors to evaluate the colonies. The end result was that many boxes were left behind in holding yards and when the dust finally settled, the “surplus” of bees pretty much dried up.
Out-of-state beekeepers that brought bees to California for the first time got a rude awakening as to what constitutes a good pollinating unit for almonds. Many thought that 4+ frames of bees in January would be acceptable to almond growers. The enclosed Letter from Randy Oliver (American Bee Journal, April 2006; Letter to the Editor) sums up the situation.
It takes a lot of time and expense for beekeepers to deliver 8+ frame colonies to almond orchards in February. It is almost impossible to get such colonies without undertaking an expensive supplemental feeding programs that stimulates colonies into maintaining high bee populations in the winter, a time when a bee colony is normally at its lowest ebb in population. 8+ frame colonies are not normal in February.
The value of an 8-frame colony to the almond grower compared to a 4-frame colony is truly remarkable. A 1977 study showed that an 8-frame colony collected up to 7 times as much almond pollen as a 4-frame colony (American Bee Journal, Feb. 1977). More recent studies confirming this should be out later this year.
Our business volume is limited by the number of beekeepers that want to work with us – - not that many do because they know we enforce our 8-frame strength standard. We have a reputation in the beekeeping community for being hard on beekeepers although “tough, but fair” is how I believe most of our beekeepers characterize us. In an article on 2006 almond pollination in the April American Bee Journal, beekeeper Bob Harrison refers to me: “I do not believe my Midwestern bees would meet Joe’s tough grading in January. Joe [Traynor] had the highest standards and was the broker the California and out-of-state beekeepers were most upset with.” The preceding statement is a bit misleading in that most of our beekeepers are happy campers. They know what we expect, they deliver the goods and they get paid a fair price.
When we get equal numbers of complaints from growers (about price) and from beekeepers (about colony evaluation) I feel we are doing a good job. In most years, the complaints are about equal from each side.
The $2/colony for bee research that you paid this year netted about $82,000. $7250 of this has been allocated to Dr. Frank Eischen (USDA, Weslaco, TX) for his almond pollination studies this year. $75,000 has been allocated to the California State Beekeepers Association’s research fund. CSBA funds worthwhile projects all over the U.S. (and the world). I specified that the funds were to be used on worth that would benefit almond growers. For 2007, $1/colony will be set aside for bee research.
Rain Affects Bees
Anytime it rains in California, some in ag love it, some hate it. The recent rains are a boon to southern California beekeepers who were beginning to wonder if there would be enough bee forage this year. The same rains shut down queen bee operations in northern California — these operations are a major supplier of queen bees for U.S. beekeepers and the current queen bee shortage is preventing many beekeepers from increasing (or maintaining) their colony numbers.
Honey prices have risen from about 80 cents a pound to around $1/lb in recent weeks due to restrictions on imports. Some expect them to go as high as $1.25/lb. Good news for beekeepers but maybe not so good for almond growers since eastern beekeepers won’t be interested in almond pollination if they can make a living (like they used to) as honey producers.
Long-term, good honey prices probably are in the best interests of almond growers as it keeps in tact a supply of bee hives that might otherwise be used for firewood.
I’ll be in Australia from May 18-30 to speak to beekeepers and almond growers down there. Almond acreage in Australia is expected to hit 40,000 acres by 2010. Like here, cotton ground is going to almonds, and like here, water goes to the highest bidder.
Mandarins vs. Bees
The 2 largest Clementine mandarin growers in California, Paramount Citrus and Sun Pacific, are requesting (in the form of a letter from Paramount’s legal counsel in Paramount’s case) that beekeepers keep bees at least 2 miles from their mandarin plantings (bees can transfer outside pollen to Clementines, the resulting seeds cause a drastic reduction in price to the grower).
If beekeepers are forced off long-held locations, it will have a devastating effect on a number of bee operations since many can’t make it without making orange honey.
There is some evidence that seeded mandarins are sweeter, firmer and have a longer shelf life, but currently, seedlessness trumps all other factors.
Colonies per acre
As many of your know, I’ve been pushing using fewer colonies per acre as an answer to the impending bee shortage when current nonbearing acreage comes on line. One snag is that insurance companies are insisting that 2 colonies per acre be used to get full insurance coverage. No specifications as to colony strength — just 2 colonies per acre. I’ll be working this summer to get more sensible bee guidelines for almond growers.
I am aware that current pollination prices are horrendously high. I got in this “game” in 1960 when bees rented for $3/colony. Never in my wildest dreams did I think they would go to today’s levels. The bee bills you paid (without complaining) this year are staggering. These high fees for strong colonies are justified, however. It is what it is. Your continued patronage is appreciated.