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Almond Grower Newsletter – May 20, 2005

SCIENTIFIC AG CO.
P.O. Box 2144
Bakersfield, CA

Office located at:
1734 D Street, Suite #2
Bakersfield, CA 93303
24 hr. phone (661) 327-2631

2006 Bee Prices

Our enclosed 2006 bee rental prices will be a shock to many since they are more than double 2005 prices. Basically, our prices are the marketplace at work. We are finding it increasingly difficult to come up with top-quality bee colonies (8 frames of bees or better) because most bee suppliers don’t want to run the gauntlet of our quality-control inspection program- in today’s market, they don’t feel they have to.

Our current agreement with you remains in effect at our 2006 prices unless cancelled by you on or before July 1, 2005.

Grower Meeting, May 25th

I will be holding a meeting for our almond clients on Wednesday, May 25 starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Shafter Veterans Hall; coffee at 9:00 a.m. You deserve an explanation for pollination prices that some have already called “gouging.” Please try to attend.

2006 Bee Supply

The word has spread throughout the U.S. bee-keeping community about the strong demand for almond bees. As a result, beekeepers that have never brought bees to almonds are considering doing so (falling honey prices enter into the equation). Beekeepers that have brought bees to almonds in the past are splitting their colonies, going for increased numbers rather than honey (it’s difficult to do both). It is certainly possible that there could be an excess of bees for almonds in 2006 IF everything goes right-we won’t know for sure until January.

We have already contracted with our bee suppliers at the prices given on the enclosed schedule and we cannot lower them. Please give careful thought as to whether you want to continue with us at these prices. The possibility exists that if there is a surplus of bees in January, some bees could be rented at fire-sale prices. Long-term pollination prices need to remain high in order to maintain a stable long-term supply of bees.

Bee Research

You’ve read about the problems the bee industry is having, particularly in controlling the varroa mite. USDA bee researchers are operating on a shoestring budget and have made significant contributions to solving bee problems in spite of being hamstrung by limited funds. Please note that our 2006 pollination prices include a $2/colony charge that will go directly to bee research.

The bee industry is currently trying to get our government to provide emergency funding for bee research. If they are successful and if the government provides $1 million or more additional funds for bee research by January 1, 2006, our $2/colony research surcharge for 2006 will be eliminated.

Consider writing your congressmen to support additional funding for bee research. A talking point could be that the funding could easily be provided by a more equitable tax structure-it is estimated that under the current tax proposal, the top tenth of 1% (in income) will pocket 15% of the increased tax cuts.*
I know of no almond grower that’s even remotely close to being in this top 0.1%**

*from the book Perfectly Legal by Pulitzer Prize-winning
author David Cay Johnston.

**a possible exception, if the definition of “almond
grower” were expanded, would be Stewart Resnick,
the force behind both Paramount Farming and The
Franklin Mint. Mr. Resnick is an astute
businessman whose only known misstep to date
was authorizing the production of a limited edition
of 10,000 Gray Davis statuettes just prior to
California’s recall election (only 4 were sold).
Mr. Resnick is confident he will recoup this loss
later this year with the introduction of Condoleezza
Rice’s features on a porcelain pomegranate.

Handbook Update

The enclosed (yellow) sheet updates the 1994 Almond Pollination Handbook. Handbooks are free to all our growers. If you don’t already have one (or if you want additional copies) they will be available at the May 25th meeting.

Red Imported Fire Ants and the Bee Supply

There is an untapped pool of honey bee colonies in the southeastern U.S. These beekeepers would like to bring their bees to almonds, but have heard too many stories of bees being turned back at the AZ and CA borders (see enclosed pink sheet, Continuing Problems). The proposals in the enclosed sheet are eminently doable and would not weaken the battle against RIFA (they could enhance the battle since a number of loads from these states are currently bypassing 24-hour border check stations).

Out-of-state beekeepers have no voice in RIFA regulations even though their livelihoods are significantly impacted by these regulations. If every almond grower expressed concern over current regulations, they could be modified.

All-weather Roads

This past season, beekeepers were able to pick and choose which growers they wished to service. Some of the first almond growers they dropped were those that had orchards where access was limited during rainy weather. Bee deliveries to almond orchards are extremely time sensitive. When trucks are scheduled to deliver bees, there is no time available for delays due to impassable roads.

We plan to phase out all orchards that do not have roads that are accessible during wet weather. If you’re planning new plantings, keep this in mind. With dust-control measures looming, making your orchard all-weather accessible makes good economic sense.

Two road-improvement parties that have done a good job for two of our growers are BCM (Buttonwillow Compaction Materials) (661) 616-0532 and Hunsiker& Son Granite (559) 535-4719 or
535-4065.

The Book on Bees

A new book, Bees Beseiged by Bill Mares, gives an excellent overview of the current state of the U.S. bee industry. Mr. Mares is a part-time beekeeper from Vermont and spent several years putting the book together, traveling all over the U.S. interviewing beekeepers and those associated with beekeeping. Mr. Mares, a former investigative reporter, has put together a highly readable account of U.S. beekeeping. Order from A.I. Root Co., (800)
289-7668.

See you on the 25th.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.

From Jan.-Feb.-March Honey Producer magazine (American Honey Producers Assn. ­ 2005)

Send comments to: Gary Leslie, Program Supervisor, Dept. of Control & Eradication, CA Dept of Agriculture, 1220 N St., Sacramento, CA 95814; (916) 653-1440; gleslie@cdfa.ca.gov.

Continuing Problems at Checkpoints Regarding Fire Ants
By Randy Verhoek; r.verhoek@harvest honeyinc.com

There are still many complaints at the checkpoints where trucks are entering California with semi loads of bees from known fire ant infested states. I have received many testimonials from beekeepers whose loads were held up at the discovery of one solitary rogue worker ant. There is a zero ant tolerance level now-if an inspector at the checkpoint finds one ant, at that point the load is rejected and the shipper has two options: The first option is to off load the bees at Needles and power wash the load for another opportunity to pass inspection. The other option is that the load be rejected and return via Federal quarantine to the shipper. The individuals that I have spoken to have power washed their colonies and transferred them over to new or washed pallets. They believe having to unload these bees only to do again what has already been done is ludicrous! There are also some mistrust issues with some of the inspector’s methods and/or findings. After calls to Sacramento to reason with the Department of Pest Exclusion, they are all the more vigilant in their search for ants. Although we can appreciate their passionate diligence in doing their job and adhering to the letter of the law, somewhere common sense has been lost in the struggle for control.

To give some background history on what is happening, here are a couple of examples. One beekeeper prepares his colonies for shipment with this standard procedure. Prior to transporting colonies to a loading yard, colonies are selected for shipment. All colonies of ants and dirt are sprayed liberally with diesel fuel and dirt is scraped off at that time. The next evening or morning the colonies are hauled to a loading yard. At the time of loading, colonies are transferred to clean pressure washed pallets that have been sprayed on the bottom with a fresh coat of diesel fuel. All dirt, spider webs, weeds and other debris is removed. The flatbed trailer is sprayed with a coat of diesel fuel as the colonies are being loaded. When such a prepared load arrived at the Needle’s checkpoint, it went through the following procedure. An inspector, armed with a flashlight and a rod with an attached Q-tip, searched, poked and prodded for 30 minutes. The truck driver never took his eyes off the inspector the whole time. As the last two pallets were being inspected, the driver, thinking they were good to go, turned away to begin refastening his net. Thirty seconds later the inspector mysteriously produced an ant. As the inspector and driver walked back to the office to call the owner, the inspector made this comment, “The other inspectors can’t find any ants, but I know how to find them.” The load then had to be off loaded, pressure washed, inspected and reloaded. No other ants, dead or alive, were seen. Another beekeeper with similar loading procedures had this happen at the Blythe, CA checkpoint. After a thorough inspection by one inspector as the driver watched, not an ant was found. The driver and inspector walked back to the office to fill out the paperwork. At that time another inspector went out to reinspect the load and somehow produced an ant. This load had to proceed to Needles to be off loaded, pressure washed and again reloaded. Again, not another ant was found. In both of these cases, the drivers were promptly given the business card of a local beekeeper offering his services to unload, pressure wash and reload for $1,000.

I have been told by reliable sources they have seen up to five semi loads unnetted and waiting, while one on the ground is being pressure washed. This is just a brief synopsis of what is going on at the checkpoints. Beekeepers that are going through all this trouble to comply will be hard-pressed to again be hassled by the State of California. It is also becoming more difficult to find trucking companies that will haul bees out of fire ant states.

What with the ever increasing demand for honeybee colonies to pollinate almonds in California, now more than ever, a plan needs to be developed to abolish the zero ant tolerance.

It is not in the best interest for all involved in the almond and pollination industries to have all the bees wintered in California. There are in fact, many benefits to not have all the “eggs i.e. bees” in one basket. After some discussion among fellow bee-keepers and California county inspectors, this is what we would like to propose:

1. At checkpoints in California if an ant has been found during inspection and:

a. the load has not been properly cleaned prior to arrival at checkpoints (evidence of dirt, debris, weeds, etc.) reject the load and return to shipper;

b. the load has been properly cleaned prior to arrival at checkpoints (no evidence of dirt, debris, weeds, etc.) make special notation and allow the load to proceed under existing quarantine procedure for further inspection by county inspectors upon arrival.