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Almond Grower Newsletter – May 29, 2002

2003 Pollination Prices
Our pollination prices will increase for the 2003 season (see accompanying schedule).

Providing strong bee colonies requires much pre-planning; we urge you to make pollination arrangements well before bloom. The strongest colonies are the first to get contracted.

The Bee Strength Problem
The enclosed newsletter from U.C., Davis Extension Apiculturist, Eric Mussen outlines problems with bee colony strength this year. The main cause of such problems is poor bee nutrition, mainly during late summer and fall. This is a recurring problem every year, and indeed, Dr. Mussen has expounded on the problem in numerous past years; this year, the late bloom and cold January exacerbated the problem.

The natural life cycle of a bee colony is for populations to bottom out during January and February – just at the time the almond grower wants strong colonies. Without supplemental care and feeding, it is normal for colonies to average much closer to 4 frames of bees than 8 during almond bloom.

In order to get 8-frame colonies for almonds, the beekeeper must invest significant resources in fall and winter feeding. Many beekeepers opt to let nature take its course and accept a lower price for their bees rather than make the investment needed to get high bee populations in February.

With increasing almond acreage and a decreasing bee supply (see table, below) we are finding it increasingly difficult to contract with beekeepers that will commit to providing strong colonies in February. Many beekeepers simply won’t work with us because they know we enforce our colony strength standards.

Current drought conditions through most of the western U.S. means it will be even tougher to get strong bee colonies in 2003 than it was this year. Beekeepers (and almond growers) could be facing the toughest year ever for getting strong colonies in February.

It costs over $80/colony annually to maintain a bee colony (see Eric Mussen’s newsletter of Jan/Feb 2002). For many Calif. beekeepers, the recent end of the citrus bloom marked the end of the honey season and their combined honey + pollination income will fall far short of $80/col. Many simply won’t have the resources to invest in a fail-winter feeding program (and will be cutting costs on pest and disease control). We are helping to finance a feeding program for some of our beekeepers. Because the groundwork for strong colonies in February is laid in the previous fall, almond growers may be asked (in future years) to finance fall-winter feeding programs if they want strong colonies at bloom time.

CALIFORNIA ALMOND ACREAGE vs. U.S. BEE COLONIES

Acres of Almonds

U.S. Bee Colonies
Year

Bearing

Non-bearing

Total Number

/Bearing Acre
1991

405,000

33,000

3,181,000

7.9
2000

500,000

95,000

2,620,000

5.2
2001

525,000

50,000*

2,513,000

4.8
2002

530,000*

30,000*

2,400,000*

4.5
1991-2002

+31%

(-25%)

(-43%)

*estimates
Almond acreage data from the Almond Board of California.
Bee colony data from USDA annual surveys.
Most U.S. bee colonies are non-migratory (they stay in their home state year-round).

Apogee
Remember the name; you may be using it sometime. Apogee is a growth regulator that suppresses shoot growth during the growing season. Many Kern county almond growers also grow cotton and are familiar with the widespread use of the growth regulator PIX to control vegetative growth on cotton – vegetative growth is suppressed and the plants’ resources are directed towards setting and retaining the maximum number of cotton bolls. Look at almond trees as giant cotton plants with Apogee used to suppress growth. A major benefit: reduced pruning costs. Currently the Prune (whoops, Dried Plum) Board is devoting over 10% of its $200,000 research budget into Apogee tests this year. With a research budget of $622,000 (far less per acre than dried plums) shouldn’t almond growers be investigating Apogee?

Bee-pesticide Hazard
Dry conditions mean we’ll see more bees on irrigated agriculture this summer. Eric Mussen informs us that a new pesticide, Actara (aka, Platinum or Cruiser, active ingredient is thiamethoxam) may be used on cotton this year. It is very toxic to bees but carries no bee info on the label.

Re: cotton sites for bees, if you have such, we’d be interested; we have information (sent on request) that bees can increase cotton yields.

Jimmy Reed – Ag Poet
When I first started in ag consulting in the 1970s, I did quite a bit of work in cotton. Now I do very little cotton work (O.K., none) but still receive a number of cotton publications. One feature I never fail to read is Jimmy Reed’s Voice of the Delta in Cotton Farming. Jimmy focuses on family, friends, work and community – on life – and has a magical way with words that can make you laugh or cry, sometimes in the same column. Reading Jimmy puts one in a good mood the rest of the day.*

Jimmy’s sentences are filtered through 20 years of hardscrabble cotton farming (if you think farming in California is tough, try farming in Mississippi) and his words hit home every time. In his May column, Jimmy describes a year when the “Beet armyworms beat us to death, and the weather had never been crueler to cotton” and the 1984 season

- the year we were poised to gather our best crop ever. Even our weakest land was yielding better than two bales per acre. In October the rains came. . .and never stopped. On the scant few sunshiny days when the cotton dried enough to gather, we pushed the pickers through quagmires, leaving deep ruts, harvesting cotton that would have made fine clothing in September, but was better suited for mops in February.

In a tribute to his mother in the same column, Jimmy penned these words: ‘ If awe of Nature’s glory is worship, her life was constant prayer.”

San Joaquin valley farmers appreciate Nature daily, especially when viewing a morning sunrise over the eastern foothills, or an evening sunset in the west – a “quiet time” that lightens the day’s burdens. (Will someone please turn off that diesel engine?)

*A book by Jimmy should be out later this year (or next): 100 X 500 – A Collection of Short, Short Stories (100 stories, 500 words each).

Reduce Fungicide Applications – Save $$
Most almond growers monitor insect pests before applying expensive insecticides; if insect pressure is low, no pesticides are applied. Dr. Themis Michailides (U.C. Kearny Ag Center) is refining a test to determine the presence of brown rot fungi on blossoms (and other fungi, including hull rot). Hopefully, commercial labs can perform this test during the 2003 bloom season.

Health and Almonds
In recent years, virtually every ag commodity, including almonds, has come up with data showing that their product provides better nutrition and better health. This emphasis on health is not new – over 80 years ago, California raisin growers promoted raisins for health (see accompanying article by Fresno native son, William Saroyan).


Enjoy good health, and best wishes for a bountiful harvest.

Joe Traynor

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

Toll-free number: (877) 356-5846
Office Located at:
1734 D Street, Suite #2
Bakersfield, California
24 Hr. Phone (661) 327-2631