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Almond Grower Newsletter – May 11, 2011

2012 Pollination Prices
Our 2012 prices will be the same as 2011 (and 2010)

Orange Honey Crop a Bust
Half or more of the 700,000+ bee colonies in San Joaquin Valley almond orchards in February are placed in east-side citrus locations in April. Beekeepers expect to make $50/colony worth of orange honey and for many Valley-based beekeepers this is the only honey income they will get all year. This year, the orange honey crop was a bust for two reasons: less nectar in fewer blossoms and over-crowding of locations. Just as cattle will over-graze limited pasture, increasing numbers of bee colonies on a limited acreage of citrus is harmful to bees. This year, some beekeepers spent $25 to $30/colony feeding sugar syrup to their bees during orange bloom, an unheard of situation.

The conversion of thousands of acres of Navel and Valencia oranges to “seedless” mandarins has exacerbated the situation since mandarin growers either net their trees or don’t allow bees within a mile of their groves. Bee colonies in the citrus belt are being crowded into smaller and smaller areas (refugee camps?) to the detriment of bees and beekeepers (and almond growers).

North Dakota Soggy
N. Dakota becomes the honey bee capital of the U.S. during the summer. Truckloads of bees are currently being hauled to ND and many are unable to get into locations due to wet ground. Planting of canola, a major honey- pollen source for bees, has been delayed until growers can get into the fields. Some fields on heavier ground may not be planted; same with corn and soybeans, not the best plants for bees, but better than nothing. Unless things dry out soon, beekeepers will be adversely affected.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) Still With Us
Annual losses to CCD remain in the 30% range. This year two of our beekeepers (5,000 total colonies) suffered over 50% winter loss. CCD losses usually don’t show up until January, creating a scramble for suitable almond bees for us and for other brokers and growers.

CCD research is proceeding on a number of fronts and a consensus is forming that one or more viruses is the root cause and that virus-spreading varroa mites must be controlled to minimize CCD. Trying to kill a bug on a bug without harming the host bug (honey bee) is a formidable task, made more difficult as mites quickly develop resistance to the few materials available for control.

In this age of CCD, the inputs necessary for beekeepers to provide almond growers with 8+ frame colonies usually exceed $200/colony. These costs are increasing due to increased costs of inputs, esp. sugar syrup and to costs also faced by almond growers, esp. fuel prices.

Although we are holding the line on pollination prices, expect others to raise prices and/or to cut down on the inputs required to supply strong colonies in February.